Sleeping Late on Judgement Day
A Bobby Dollar Novel
I started the Bobby Dollar story by dedicating it to my friend David Pierce, who left us. Since then, I have lost a few more dear ones, and our field of science fiction/fantasy has lost quite a few as well.
Mortality is pain, but it’s also perspective. We miss you all, you writers and artists and creators, and I still really miss Dave, but that’s the terrible, beautiful conundrum of our lives: We can’t love without someday learning about loss.
My book, my rules. And the most important rule is—acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge! Because one of these doesn’t get finished without many people’s help.
My dear friends and editors, Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, have been very important to the creation of this book (as they have with all the others, too). Blessings upon them.
My excellent agent, Matt Bialer, has held my hand (metaphorically, mostly, because he’s in New York) through many crises and freak-outs. Blessings upon him.
Marylou Capes-Platt has performed another little miracle of copy-editing, giving me lots of corrections and suggestions without ever once making me want to bite myself savagely. That’s impressive. Blessings upon her.
My wife, Deborah Beale, as always, has been there for me and with me at every step of the process. I am lucky to be married not just to a wonderful person, but to an excellent editor/publisher as well. (Hint: I am not a bigamist. They are the same person.) Blessings upon her. Always.
My dear friend Lisa Tveit, the Queen of All Online Stuff, has continued to make it look as if I know something about the modern world. My gratitude is endless, as have been her efforts on my behalf. Blessings upon her.
And my dear friend Ylva von Lohneysen has helped me out with many important questions related to German. Plus she’s just cool. Blessings upon her as well.
Thanks also to the Bobby Dollar Army, as drawn from the splendid Smarchers of tadwilliams.com and the fine Facebook folk of tad.williams and AuthorTadWilliams, and the kind folks on Twitter, who have been cushioned slightly from the Full Tad Madness by the gentle selectivity of my life-partner at MrsTad. Blessings, blessings, blessings.
In fact, if it weren’t for readers, I wouldn’t be writing—I’m a storyteller, not a hermetic scholar — so blessings on all of you reading this as well. Thank you—and keep it up, please! At this rate, you’ll have finished the whole book before you even know it.
I HADN’T ATTENDED a trial in Heaven before—not in person. They don’t happen that often, for one thing.
But wait, O wise angel, I hear you say. How can there be trials in Heaven?
Which is a perfectly good question, because once you’ve made it to the Big Happy you should be golden, right? You’ve been judged righteous or you wouldn’t get in, and after that you’re doing the work of the Highest, so how could you go wrong?
Well, first of all, there’s the whole Free Will thing—people and angels have to be free to make mistakes, or else we live in a clockwork universe where everything’s predetermined and perfect. Most of the time Heaven does seem like that, a flock of serene shiny creatures living in complete harmony, a hive of buzzing happiness and shared purpose. But we all know that in nature, no matter how well any system works, there’s always a couple of dumbass birds heading north for the winter when everyone else is flying south, or one dipshit salmon belly-surfing down the rapids, yelling, “Whoo, yeah! Check me out!” as he smacks face first into the more sensible fish swimming upstream to spawn. The fact that these unrepresentative idiots freeze and plummet from the sky or die without issue isn’t the point—the point is Free Will, and apparently we angels are capable of poor impulse control just like everybody else. Thus, there are trials in Heaven, and I was about to attend my first.
Although “attend” is a bit misleading, I admit. It wasn’t really my first, because I’d been aware of several other trials. Here in the Happy Place you can know about important things like that and even follow them closely without actually being present, although it’s hard to explain, because—duh—it’s another Heaven thing. Imagine sitting in a crowded bar when the playoffs are on and a local team is involved: you don’t have to stay glued to the screen to know what’s going on in the game; you can pick up what’s happening in a dozen different ways. And that’s how I’d done my trial-watching in the past.
But this trial was going to be different, and so I had secured myself an excellent seat, front row center. The poor bastard angel on trial was going to face the full weight of Heaven’s judgement, and the entire Shining City was full of anticipation. The Hall of Justice sparkled and throbbed with the light of watching angels, angels who wanted more than just a general feeling about this trial, who wanted to experience it up close and personal. I thought I even saw my boss, Archangel Temuel (who us angelic grunts usually called “The Mule”) not too far away.
The crowd of the Saved, jostling each other in the massive shining hall despite being only semi-tangible (another Heaven thing which doesn’t really translate), began to murmur with anticipation as the jury appeared, a row of blooming angelic flames that represented the great and the good—in fact some of the very greatest and goodest that our Third Sphere had to offer. I recognized them all.
“We Are Convened In The Sight Of The Highest To Do Justice.” These words came from the diamond-faceted white light that represented Terentia, a powerful angel who was acting as master of ceremonies. The other four heavenly judges, Karael, Raziel, Anaita, and Chamuel watched silently from beside her, their flames lined up like a menorah on Hanukkah Day Five. “God Loves You All,” Terentia added, then turned her attention to me. “Angel Advocate Doloriel, You Are Accused Of Conspiring Against Heaven’s Laws. In Addition To Several Crimes, You Are Also Charged With The Sins Of Wrath, Pride, Envy, And Avarice, All Most Dreadful. If You Are Found Guilty, You Will Be Cast From Heaven And Into The Unholy Pit, There To Dwell In Suffering For Eternity. Do You Have Any Questions Before We Begin?”
So, yeah, the reason I had such a good seat was because I was the one on trial. And if you’ve got questions, believe me, so did I—probably the same ones, in fact, beginning with “How did I get here?” and “How do I get out of here again?” But for reasons I’ll explain as I go, I didn’t think it would do me any good to ask.
“Look, you’ve already decided what you’re going to do,” I said, with what I hoped came off as a tough, cold-blooded calm I sure didn’t feel. “Let’s cut to the chase, because we all know the fun part is going to be the sentencing.”
But wait, I hear you say. How did you wind up on trial in Heaven, Bobby Dollar? How could such a thing happen to you, one of Heaven’s most beloved and respected angels?
Oh, yeah, that’s hilarious. Kick a guy when he’s on trial for his immortal soul just to get a cheap laugh, why don’t you?
You really want to hear how I wound up here? I guess it started with a dream I had.
just an angel
THE WOOD was stacked higher than the heads of the catcalling spectators. On top of the mountainous pyre, the prisoner sagged against the stake like something unreal, a discarded shop-window dummy or a forgotten toy. The condemned wore a soldier’s gleaming armor, but the slightness of the figure told a different story. This was a woman about to be burned. This was St. Joan.
She lifted her head and looked out across the crowded town square. Our eyes met. I saw the pale white-gold hair, the eyes red as blood, and my heart went cold. This wasn’t the Maid of Orleans, it was Caz—my Caz, my beautiful demon-woman, the creature who had both captured and endangered my soul.
Someone set fire to the stacked wood. The kindling caught first, freeing wisps of white smoke that quickly rose and spread around her feet. Within moments the flames began to climb the sides of the pyre, painting the rising smoke with sunset tones. Caz struggled against her bonds, more and more desperate as the fire rose.
I couldn’t move. I opened my mouth and tried to call to her, but I couldn’t speak, either. I was frozen, helpless. When she needed me most, I couldn’t do a thing.
“I can’t reach you!” she cried, coils of smoke climbing her writhing body like snakes. “Oh, Bobby! I can’t reach you!” Then her words turned to shrieks.
Flames leaped high into the air, until I could hardly make her out through the shimmer of heat. Her struggling figure, the smoke, the buildings in the background, all bent and wavered as if under water. Then, through the rising, spreading cloud, I saw a clutter in the air above her—winged shapes, dropping from the sky.
Hallelujah! The bells of the town began to clang, ringing out the song of redemption. Hallelujah! The winged ones swept down through the smoke—angels, angels coming to save her!
But then I saw the shapes more clearly. Maybe it was the warping of the heated air, but these supposed rescuers looked grim and terrible, eyes lightning-bright, wings black as burnt paper and glowing at the edges as though fire were their natural element.
Angels, I wondered, or demons? Coming to save her—or drag her back to endless ...