Tuesday, November 9, 2010

# Free Planet iPad Short - Nov 8 and 9, 2010 - An Excerpt from MERCURY FALLS by Robert Kroese

One of the many great things about owning an iPad is easy access to excellent writing by bestselling authors, and writers still making their way toward becoming bestsellers.

Another great thing about iPad ownership is reading -- Free! -- excerpts of great books brought to you in our Planet iPad Shorts program.  The excerpts present beautifully on the big iPad screen, cover photos are bright and eye appealing.  Thetext is sharp, and our editors' commentaries inform, hopefully entertain and amuse before you leap into the story.

A fine example follows.

Enjoy, and look for a regular stream of Planet iPad Shorts in the days to come.

By Stephen Windwalker
Publisher of Planet iPad and
Editor of Kindle Nation Daily ©Kindle Nation Daily 2010
See that guy over there? to the right? Shades? Beard? Teeshirt? Looks serious enough, doesn't he? I mean, as serious as the next guy, right?

Don't let him fool you. He's a madman. In the best possible way.

It's like this. I read in bed every night. And I was reading in bed when I started reading Mercury Falls.

And then I wasn't.

Because I had to get up and go into the other room to read, because I was laughing like a madman myself, way too loud, waking Betty up, you name it.

So, well, I wasn't surprised when I discovered that AmazonEncore had come after Rob Kroese with a contract in hand, looking to sign him up. Because I'm sure the Amazon people were laughing like madmen, too. Which is to their credit, I think.

How about you? Madman? Not a madman?

All I've got to say about it is this: Don't be too sure about the answer until you start reading Mercury Falls. (Which, by the way, you can do by clicking right here, because the madman has been very generous and has provided us with a humongous 7,300-word excerpt for our Free Planet iPad Shorts program.)

Because my money is on the madman Rob Kroese. If you give him half a chance, he'll do to you what he did to me.

He'll have you laughing like a madman, too.

Here's the set-up: 

While on assignment in Nevada, Christine Temetri isn't surprised when yet another prophesied Apocalypse fails to occur. After three years of reporting on End Times cults for a religious news magazine, Christine is seriously questioning her career choice.

But then she meets Mercury, a cult leader whose knowledge of the impending Apocalypse is decidedly more solid than most: he is an angel, sent from heaven to prepare for the Second Coming but distracted by beer, ping pong, and other earthly delights.

After Christine and Mercury inadvertently save Karl Grissom-a film-school dropout and the newly appointed Antichrist-from assassination, she realizes the three of them are all that stand in the way of mankind's utter annihilation. They are a motley crew compared to the heavenly host bent on earth's destruction, but Christine figures they'll just have to do.

Full of memorable characters, Mercury Falls is an absurdly funny tale about unlikely heroes on a quest to save the world.  

Click on the title or cover image below below to download the complete book to your iPad, Kindle or Kindle app!

Mercury Falls
by Robert Kroese
4.6 out of 5 stars  (154 customer reviews)
Digital List Price:     $9.99
Kindle Price: $7.99
Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
Read it. You'll be glad you did.
An Excerpt from 
Mercury Falls

By  Robert Kroese
Copyright © 2010 by Robert Kroese and reprinted here with his permission.


To Your Holiness the High Council of the Seraphim,

Greetings from your humble servant, Ederatz,
Cherub First Class,
Order of the Mundane Observation Corps

The first thing you'll notice about this report is that it's written in English. I have to apologize for that; after a few millennia on earth I'm a little rusty in High Seraphic. Also, while the language of the angels is incontrovertibly more melodious than any earthbound tongue, it lacks a number of words which are central to the telling of a story of such epic grandeur, such as linoleum, ping-pong and dickweed.

I have abandoned the anapestic tetrameter form traditionally used for these reports, as it is surprisingly difficult to adapt to English. I got as far as:

White balls bouncing in the house of the one
And the corners of linoleum are peeling in the sun

I think this couplet has a certain epic feel to it, but on the down side it took me three weeks to write. In addition, I'm afraid this account has a bit more moral ambiguity than is really suited for the traditional form. I know, I'm supposed to clear up the gray areas and present things in black and white, but you'd be amazed at how complicated things have gotten here recently. In fact, it's hard to even know what bits to include in the story.
Who's the main character? What's the point of the story? Could it be adapted into a TV movie? Your guess is as good as mine. Although it is true that HBO has expressed some interest.

Until now relations between Heaven and the Mundane Plane have been a one-way street. To us it was all about following the all important Schedule of Plagues, Announcements and Miracles. We make little adjustments here and there to keep history moving in the right direction, but we never actually get involved in what's going on. I'm sure you're familiar with the motto of the Mundane Observation Corps:
Eternally Objective. I always took this motto very seriously. Many of my fellow cherubim tend, in fact, to be objective to the point of downright hostility.

Mercury was not, of course, an agent of the M.O.C. Mercury got his hands dirty on countless occasions. But in a way the motto applies even more to angels in his position.
It was understood that whatever he did, he was expected above all not to
care. I suppose you could see his actions as the logical consequence of that philosophy.

On the other hand, what do I know? You're the ones making the important decisions. I suppose you have agents trying to track down Mercury as you're reading this, and you probably have a pretty good idea of what you're going to do when - or if - you find him.
Or maybe you're reading this with an open mind, hoping to find the answers to all the big questions. What was he trying to accomplish? On whose authority was he acting?
 Did he really build a snowman the height of a three story building? And of course, what you need in order to answer those questions is a completely objective account of events.

Too bad I can't give you one.

As you know, the Mundane Observation Corps has access to a staggering amount of information; our agents are everywhere, recording anything of interest that happens on the Mundane Plane. This information is, however, useless unless it is framed in some kind of coherent narrative. In the past, the frame has been provided for us; the M.O.C. has always been able to rely on the inexorable unfolding of the Divine Plan.

Like it or not, however, the events of this story have broken this frame. I've had to create my own frame, based on my own understanding of events. Your frame is sure to be different. I guess that's the one thing I'd like you to keep in mind as you read this. This report isn't just a book full of facts for you to absorb. As you read it, you're inevitably going to try to incorporate it into your own frame.

Good luck figuring it all out.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Matthew 24:36 (King James Version)

The results of this study indicate that the month of September of the year 1994 is to be the time for the end of history.... Look, let's put it this way. My wife came to me and said we needed new linoleum in the kitchen. I told her that we should hold off on the effort and the expense of doing it until October or November of 1994.

− The Reverend Harold Camping, in 1991

What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.

− Woody Allen


The Apocalypse has a way of fouling up one's plans. To its credit, humanity has done its best to anticipate the End of Days, but lacking any basis for a reliable timetable, they've jumped the gun on more than a few occasions. The Apocalypse's stubborn refusal to arrive on schedule has caused no end of trouble for the people who have volunteered to announce its arrival. Those waiting at the metaphorical arrival gate for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are forced to eat a lot of metaphorical crow. And pay for a lot of metaphorical flooring.

As you'll recall from some of the early reports produced by our organization, Saint Clement I was one of the first to predict an imminent Apocalypse, around 90 A.D. He went around for several years telling the masses that the end was near. The masses responded by making him into a boat anchor. Once he was out of the way, they were free to replace their old linoleum.

A Roman priest and theologian once used the dimensions of Noah's ark to predict that Christ would return in 500 A.D. When 500 ended with a whimper rather than a bang, he was forced to admit it was time to retile his foyer.

Later Christian scholars argued that Christ would wait for the odometer to flip before returning in glory. Nevermind that they were using the wrong year for Christ's birth; if it were up to them, there would have been a massive run on flooring materials at the beginning of the second millennium. The Great Linoleum Shortage of 1001 A.D. was forestalled only by the near universal inability to read a calendar.

Pope Innocent III was convinced that the Apocalypse would arrive on the 666th anniversary of the birth of Islam. The Pope's regard for Mohammed notwithstanding, the mountain failed to arrive. He gave in and replaced the wood flooring in the Vatican with ceramic tile.

In 1669, The Old Believers in Russia barely avoided an expensive flooring upgrade by immolating themselves. This was before the days of zero-interest financing.

The Jehovah's Witnesses nearly single-handedly prompted the rationing of flooring materials at various points in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Apocalypses scheduled for 1891, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994.

After two thousand years of this, most people had grown a little jaded regarding the prospect of an imminent Armageddon. Predictions of The End became so common by the dawn of the third millennium that homeowners no longer thought twice about installing new flooring weeks or even days before a scheduled Apocalypse.

So it was not for lack of warning that Christine Temetri, an otherwise intelligent young woman who had recently purchased a nine hundred square foot condo in Glendale, California, made the astoundingly ill-advised decision to have new linoleum installed in her breakfast nook only days before the Apocalypse was scheduled to start. Her decision was, if anything, the result of an overwhelming surfeit of warnings.

The latest of these warnings came from one Reverend Jonas Bitters, First Prophet of the Church of the Bridegroom. Jonas Bitters was a former recreational vehicle salesman who had, through a combination of spurious scriptural exegesis, excessive reliance on Google's automated Hebrew-to-English translation service and mathematical errors that could have been caught by a bright third grader, happened upon a date for the End of Days that was within a hair of being accurate. When one considers that most eschatological timetables were off by decades - if not centuries or even millennia - Bitters was so close to the correct date that speculation has arisen in certain corners of Heaven as to whether he was somehow guided in his feverish stacking of errors by the Almighty Himself. Advocates of this theory point to the fact that if Bitters had not forgotten to carry the one in a certain equation, he would have been dead on. Skeptics point out that if he had correctly counted the number of letters in YHWH, he would have been off by another eighty years.

The fact is that in cosmological terms, Jonas Bitters was about as close to dead on as one could possibly hope for. Unfortunately for him, human beings tend not to think in cosmological terms - especially when those human beings have been standing on a plateau twenty miles outside of Elko, Nevada for eight hours. Even Christine Temetri, who had the foresight to bring a lawn chair, a down jacket, a penlight, a book of expert-level crossword puzzles and the lowest of expectations, was getting antsy about the amount of nothing that was happening. She did, however, have to give up some begrudging admiration for Jonas Bitters, whose enthusiasm remained undiminished in the wee morning hours.

The First Prophet stood some twenty yards from Christine, surveying the culmination of his life's work. Ten girls, ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen, stood before him, wearing only frilly polyester bridesmaid dresses of matching sea foam green, shivering in the early morning desert cold. Each of them held an old-fashioned kerosene camping lamp.

On a plateau a few feet below the crest of the ridge stood maybe four dozen people, yawning and hugging themselves, trying to stay alert for the big event. The ten girls on the ridge, whose limbs were turning a shade of blue that clashed with the sea foam polyester, had no such problem. Prophet Jonas had allowed them to wear jackets until 4 a.m., but as the promised event neared, he insisted that they be seen in all their wedding finery. As a result, the girls now possessed the sort of mental clarity that can only arise from a combination of certainty of one's divine purpose and impending hypothermia.

Carly, the oldest and most developed of the ten, began to jump up and down in an effort to stave off the cold, which had the effect of waking up most of the men in the audience.
"Carly, stop that!" barked a dour woman at the front of the crowd, presumably Carly's mother. "Be dignified!"

Being dignified, unfortunately, was an option that was not available to the ten girls, who had the bad luck to be born to parents who were members of the Church of the Bridegroom. On the other hand, one could argue that at least three of them wouldn't exist if it weren't for the Church, being as they were the biological daughters of Prophet Jonas - a fact unknown to anyone in the Church except for Prophet Jonas, who had his suspicions about a couple of them. One positive consequence of Prophet Jonas's uncertainty in this matter was that despite the fact that he was an incorrigible philanderer, he had not as yet had sex with any of the girls. His self-control in this matter may also have been bolstered by the fact that he needed ten virgins from within the Church to complete his Divine Mission, and thanks to his need to offer "counseling sessions" to any new female members of the Church, there wasn't much of a margin of error.

Prophet Jonas checked his watch. 5:17 a.m. It was almost time. According to the
Angler's Almanac (the only book that Prophet Jonas relied on outside of The King James Bible), the sun would rise precisely at 5:44 a.m. Even now, the first dim glow of morning was appearing in the east. In point of fact, he had expected the Bridegroom to arrive at midnight, as indicated in the Good Book, but he had been prepared for the contingency that the Guest of Honor might dawdle a bit longer in the Heavenly Foyer. Still, He would appear before dawn, that much was certain. Prophet Jonas cleared his throat and spoke.

"How y'all doin?!" he shouted at the crowd.

Murmurs of attempted cheerfulness arose from the crowd, whose members had expected the evening's festivities to climax more than five hours earlier. Most of them hadn't thought to bring folding chairs or breakfast.

"I said, 'HOW Y'ALL DOIN?!'" Prophet Jonas barked.[1]

Louder, but even less convincing, murmurs of attempted cheerfulness. Clearly those gathered in the pre-dawn desert cold just wanted to go home. At this point it didn't much matter to them if home was on Jesus' spaceship or back in the trailer park in Carson City.

As for Christine Temetri, her lack of enthusiasm stemmed not from her disbelief, nor even from her disgust with a transparent, philandering fundamentalist[2] nutjob like Jonas Bitters. Her lack of enthusiasm was, rather, a result of boredom, pure and simple. Christine was bored because she knew what was going to happen at sunrise: the sun would come up. That's what always happened at sunrise. She had been through this routine a dozen times before, and never had anything remarkable happened at sunrise other than an eight hundred and sixty five thousand mile wide ball of nuclear fusion coming into view above the horizon.

For Christine, 5:44 a.m. was (if the
Angler's Almanac was to be believed, and she had no reason to doubt it) the time when she could pack up her lawn chair, throw it into the trunk of her rental car and drive to Salt Lake City, where she would catch the 10:25 flight back to Los Angeles. Once back home, she would sleep for a few hours, then try to assemble her notes, such as they were, into a 500-word article in time for the Banner's deadline. Then, if the past few weeks' editions were any indication, the Banner's owner and publisher, Harry Giddings, would trim the article down to a pithy caption below one of Christine's amateur shots of the girls in their bridesmaid dresses, something like:

Long wait anticlimactic for 'ten virgins'

Well worth a plane ride from L.A. to Salt Lake City plus a four hour drive to and from the middle of nowhere. Christine yawned, trying to remember that she should be happy that she at least had a job - and a job doing ostensibly what she wanted to do: write.

Before going to work for the
Banner, Christine had been a marginally employed substitute English teacher with dreams of being a freelance writer. Unfortunately, no one seemed particularly interested in her ruminations on life in eastern Oregon - that is, until she took it upon herself to write a piece on an apocalyptic cult near her home. She had intended to expose the group as a front for polygamy and tax evasion, but she found the cultists so pathetic and deluded that she was unable even to feign journalistic objectivity.

What she had originally intended as a scathing expose therefore turned into a facetiously deadpan news story, pretending to give the cult's pronouncements (number seven: women are forbidden to wear denim) serious consideration. She had submitted the story on a whim to the
Banner, then a fledgling evangelical monthly. To her surprise, the Banner's staff loved the story and published it without alteration as a straight news piece. When the issue came out, her article proved to be so popular that the Banner decided to start a regular feature on fringe figures obsessed with the Apocalypse (cleverly named "End Notes"), and she was immediately asked for more. She rode a serendipitous wave of interest in the Apocalypse into a full time job; nearly a year ago she had moved to Glendale, not far from the Banner's L.A. headquarters, but she had spent most of the last three years bouncing between interviews with ersatz prophets of varying degrees of sanity. During that time the Banner had become a semi-respectable news magazine, and she had developed an ambiguous but mutually beneficial relationship with the Banner's owner and publisher, Harry Giddings. Time might still not fear God, but it certainly feared the Banner.

So here she sat, at 5:19 in the morning, waiting for the sunrise or the Second Coming, whichever came first. As she was about to nod off in her lawn chair, she was startled by a sudden outburst from Prophet Jonas.

"FANTASTIC!" howled Jonas. "The time we have been waiting for is upon us!"

Intermittent clapping and the occasional cheer nearly drowned out the sound of the Ten Virgins' teeth chattering.

"The Bridegroom will be here any moment!" declared Prophet Jonas. "Are you ready?"

Muted cheers.

"I said, 'ARE YOU READY?!'"

Muted cheers and some whistling.

"Brothers and sisters," said Jonas, more quietly, "Allow me to read from the Sacred Texts." He opened a well-worn paperback to a page marked by a bookmark. "Elko, Nevada," he read solemnly. "40 degrees, 49 minutes, 57 seconds north; 115 degrees, 45 minutes, 44 seconds west. April 29. Sunrise: 5:44 a.m."

"Brothers and sisters," he continued, winking almost imperceptibly at one of the more attractive sisters in the front row, "it is now 5:20 a.m. We are assured by calculations based on the inerrant Word of God that the Bridegroom will arrive before dawn on this very day." He set the
Angler's Almanac down on the makeshift podium that had been constructed at the last minute out of three fruit crates and picked up a heavier, leather-bound book, opening it to read:

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

"And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

"They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

"But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'

"'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'

"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'

"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."

Christine snorted involuntarily at Prophet Jonas' straight-faced delivery of the closing sentence, and then, sensing eyes upon her, turned her attention back to finding a six-letter word for "banal."

Prophet Jonas, undeterred at her outburst, set down the Bible and exclaimed, "Behold, the Ten Virgins!"

The crowd clapped politely for the girls, who shivered and smiled weakly.

"Behold!" Jonas exclaimed again, "The Five Wise Virgins!"

The five girls furthest to the left reached down with their left hands and each picked up a one gallon can of kerosene. Well, except for the girl in the middle, who had a milk jug that had been half-filled with kerosene. The middle Wise Virgin had absent-mindedly left her can in Carson City, and had to borrow a milk jug and half a gallon of kerosene from one of the other Wise Virgins - a violation of the spirit of the ceremony that did not go unnoticed by Prophet Jonas.

The crowd clapped for the Wise Virgins. "Go Carly!" yelled Carly's mother through cupped hands, for no apparent reason.

"Behold!" Jonas hollered once more. "The Five Foolish Virgins!"

The five girls on the right looked at their feet, but finding no cans of kerosene there, pantomimed a sort of ditzy disappointment, holding out their free hands as if to say,
"Whoops, I am such a Foolish Virgin, forgetting my oil. Whatever shall I do?"

Christine rolled her eyes and glanced at the display of her cell phone. 5:23. Twenty-one minutes until she could go home.

Second Prophet Noah Bitters, who was - not coincidentally - First Prophet Jonas' younger, better looking, but less charismatic brother, next led the crowd in quavering renditions of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and (less appropriately) "Michael Row Your Boat Ashore." Christine couldn't help but notice several of the Foolish Virgins jockeying for the Second Prophet's attention.

The songs gave way to an eerie silence. Prophet Jonas, trying to affect a look of confident expectation as he glanced at his watch, gave a brief, halting message, punctuated with pauses to allow for the sudden arrival of the Bridegroom. Finally, having run out of platitudes, he raised his eyes to the heavens and announced, "The wait is over!"

Christine checked her cell phone. 5:44 a.m. on the dot. In the east, the first rays of sun shot over the horizon. As more and more of the blazing disc became visible, it became clear that nothing else of note was going to happen.

Christine surveyed the members of the crowd, who were now shielding their eyes against the rising sun and looking expectantly at First Prophet Jonas Bitters. Prophet Jonas, a perplexed expression on his face, looked at the ten girls standing on the ridge just above him. The girls glanced nervously at each other, at Prophet Jonas, and at the crowd composed of their parents, relatives and friends.

As surely as the great fiery ball itself, a troubling realization began to dawn on the assembled members of the Church of the Bridegroom. Something had gone wrong. But what? Could Prophet Jonas have been mistaken? No, that was inconceivable. Prophet Jonas was their wise and revered leader, infallibly led by the Spirit of God. If he was wrong, then everything they had worked for over the past eighteen years.... It all meant nothing. No, it was impossible. There had to be another explanation.

As if in response to the collective prayer for some kind of alternate explanation, a shrill voice, apparently belonging to one of the Foolish Virgins, suddenly shrieked, "Carly's not a virgin!"

Gasps went up from the crowd. The other nine Virgins, Foolish and Wise alike, backed away from Carly, in apparent horror.

"Carly!" Prophet Jonas croaked. "You've ruined us all!"

Carly, suddenly charged with short-circuiting the arrival of the Messiah, did the only thing she could do: she redirected the blame.

"Rachel's pregnant!" Carly shouted.

Rachel, a fifteen year old Foolish Virgin, shot daggers at Carly. "At least I didn't have an
abortion," she hissed.

"That's a lie!" screamed a Wise Virgin, who realized too late that Rachel hadn't been talking about her.

The ten nominal virgins instantly devolved into a chaotic mass of screams, recriminations and hair-pulling.

Prophet Jonas, who was secretly relieved to be able to replace his guilt and embarrassment with righteous anger, turned to face the crowd. "You wicked, wicked
people!" he hissed. "I ask for ten virgins, and you give to me ten harlots! Ten painted sluts, not fit to be temple whores in Sodom itself! Ten brazen strumpets, hawking their wares in the streets of Babylon! Ten -"

"That's enough," interjected Second Prophet Noah Bitters, who had to admit that he was impressed with the number of synonyms for
prostitute his brother knew. "There's no need to censure these girls any further. I'm sure their embarrassment is more than enough -"

Prophet Jonas shot an accusatory glare at his brother. "Did you know...?" he asked.

Noah Bitters looked shocked. "Did I know? What kind of question is that? I'm your brother, Jonas!" None of these responses, of course, actually answered the question.

"I love you, Noah!" called one of the younger Foolish Virgins from the ridge.

Noah smiled weakly at his brother, whose face went red with rage. Prophet Jonas looked, Christine thought, like a cartoon character who was about to shoot steam from his ears. With Jonas momentarily paralyzed by anger, Noah sprinted off into the desert.
A split second later, his brother followed, howling decidedly non-Biblical curses after him.

The members of the congregation muttered to each other. A few of the ostensible Virgins' parents marched up the ridge to retrieve their respective daughters. Others simply got in their cars and left. A few lay flat on the ground, pummeling the desert sand with their fists and weeping.

Christine packed up her folding chair, threw it in the trunk of her rented Corolla, and checked her cell phone once more. 5:46 a.m. Plenty of time to get to the Salt Lake City airport for the 10:25 flight to Los Angeles.

William Miller, a nineteenth century Baptist preacher, predicted that Jesus Christ would return sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When March 21, 1844 passed without incident, Miller revised his calculations and adopted a new date: April 18, 1844. Like the previous date, April 18 passed without Christ's return. Miller publicly confessed his error, but maintained that "the day of the Lord is near, even at the door."
In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, one of Miller's followers, Samuel S. Snow, presented his own interpretation: that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. By this time, Miller inexplicably had thousands of followers who were eager recipients of Snow's message.

The sun rose on the morning of October 22 like any other day, and October 22 passed without incident. This non-event was dubbed by historians the "Great Disappointment."

There had been many disappointments prior to this one, and many more since, but never has there been another Great Disappointment. Even the Great War was demoted to World War I after a second, even bigger war just two decades later, but the Great Disappointment remains a non-event without sequel, even after a century and a half.

The Godfather III
notwithstanding, that's a big disappointment.

If you had been lucky enough to be a journalist covering this non-event, you could legitimately claim to have been a witness to history. You could regale your grandchildren with stories of the time you had seen nothing happen on a truly mammoth scale.
Christine Temetri, however, had the ill fortune to be born over a hundred years too late to cover the Great Disappointment, and as a result had been cursed to cover a series of Mild Disappointments that didn't even really warrant the capital letters. There's something to be said for covering spectacular failures; that was, in fact, what most journalists did most of the time. Covering an endless series of Mild Disappointments, on the other hand, was just demoralizing.

It wasn't that Christine disbelieved in the Apocalypse. She had always sort of believed in it as a concept; the idea that the human race would eventually have to account for its many sins - war, hatred, Michael Bay films.... But she couldn't remember a time when she had thought of it as an actual historical

At some point she must have thought of it as a definite, temporal occurrence, thanks to her Lutheran parents, just as at some point she had believed that Adam and Eve were real live people. But as she had gotten older, the extreme ends of the Bible had begun to fray in her mind. She did her best to hold onto the middle, but Genesis and Revelation were too remote from her own experience to connect to anything concrete. In college she had once read about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and despite the fact that she tended to think of physics as occupying a realm of eclectic trivia that was fundamentally divorced from daily reality - like the rules of tennis or the intricacies of the Electoral College - the idea of certain truths being inherently unknowable resonated with her. These days she tended to think of herself as a Heisenbergian Christian: she believed in the broad outlines of Christianity, but she was unable to pinpoint the specifics of her creed. She was okay with the wave; it was the particles that tended to escape her.

As she drove east across the barren landscape toward Salt Lake City, the latest Mild Disappointment continued to assault her in the form of the blazing sun burning globs of red hot lava in her field of vision, and it was difficult not to take the harassment personally. "What are you mad at
me for?" Christine grumbled at the unreasoning sun,
"I'm on
your side." But the sun shines on the just and the unjust alike, and Christine's unwavering faith that the fiery orb would rise that morning was no protection against its blinding rays.

Intentionally driving into a dazzling sunrise was, Christine mused humorlessly, a pretty decent metaphor for how her career as a reporter was going. There was no longer any pretending that her job consisted of anything other than intentionally ignoring the blindingly obvious. Every few weeks she would jet off to some remote yet strangely familiar locale where she would be subjected to a predictable combination of questionable Biblical interpretation, scapegoating of some group or other for the word's travails (most often homosexuals or Muslims, but occasionally Jews or Catholics and, in one case, the infield of the Los Angeles Dodgers), and "continental breakfasts" that seemed to hail from the lost Eighth Continent of Stale Muffins and Underripe Cantaloupes. And as the
Banner's representative, she was expected to act "professional" and take it all seriously, even the obviously inedible melon shavings. She was a jaded veteran being asked to play the wild-eyed amateur ("Gosh, the world is ending tomorrow? Well, now I feel a little silly about limiting myself to a single muffin at the motel this morning, heh heh."), and she became a little more jaded with each unremarkable sunrise.

These days she couldn't even justify her job on the basis of the entertainment value she provided to the
Banner's readers; it was clear that even the most assiduous apocalyptic clock-watchers were getting a little bored with the repetitive nature of her columns. What Harry's motivations were in continuing to assign these stories she couldn't imagine.
As the sun mercifully crept higher in the sky, Christine glanced in the rental car's rear view mirror to get an idea of how badly her appearance had been tarnished by the sleepless night in the desert. Human females are conditioned to base their sense of spiritual well-being on their physical appearance; it was to Christine's credit that she merely hoped that she looked better than she felt. Still, it was ill-advised for her to be checking her appearance in the rear view mirror, and not only for the usual reason that it's a bad idea to use a vital safety feature of a fifteen hundred pound gasoline-powered steel machine for making sure one's eyes aren't noticeably puffy. It was an especially bad idea in this case because people who looked at Christine's face tended to stare at it for a few seconds longer than was appropriate under the circumstances, whatever those circumstances were. Christine herself was not immune to the effect, even when her circumstances required regular scrutiny of her surroundings to ensure that she was still on the appropriate side of the highway.

People found themselves staring at Christine's face for the simple reason that they could not figure out how such an odd combination of features could be arranged in such a pleasing configuration. Her nose was too long and pointed, her eyes were too narrow and far apart, and the lines from the sides of her nose to the corners of her mouth were too pronounced. Her hair was not quite dark enough to be seductively exotic, nor curly enough to suggest carnal desires bubbling unseen under her overly placid demeanor and slightly uneven complexion.

Despite this, she managed to be strikingly beautiful, in the sort of way that made the beholder believe that he or she was the only person on earth capable of recognizing her beauty underneath those overly aggressive features. Even now, flying obliviously across the desolate landscape of eastern Nevada, she found herself transfixed by her appearance and wondering just what the deal with her face was.

As she was about to veer off the unrelentingly straight highway, her cell phone rang on the seat next to her, and she tore her eyes from the mirror, taking a moment to recalibrate the Corolla's course before picking up the phone. The display read "Harry."

Christine sighed. Her boss, Harry Giddings, had the irritating habit of sending her across the country on these wild goose chases and then forgetting where she was and wondering why he hadn't seen her around the office for a few days. Best case scenario, he had yet another crackpot in mind for her to interview, and it was urgent that she get on the next plane back to Los Angeles - as if maybe she had intended to lollygag around the Salt Lake City airport for a few hours, just for giggles. She tossed the phone back on the passenger's seat. Harry would just have to wait. She had some things to say to him, but not over a cell phone while she was a thousand miles away. He wouldn't be happy about her dodging his call, but he'd get over it. Harry being unhappy wasn't the end of the world.


Supernatural intrusions upon the Mundane plane are quite a bit more frequent than most of the plane's residents imagine. Unfortunately for those - like Christine Temetri - who are looking for such occurrences, these intrusions tend to happen in precisely the places that people aren't looking. This is mostly because extraplanar agents generally take great care not to be noticed, but also to some extent because human beings have an uncanny knack for looking in exactly the wrong places.

So it was that while Christine was in the middle of nowhere waiting for the no-show Bridegroom, evidence of a reality beyond the Mundane manifested itself in her condominium in Glendale. The supernatural impinged on Mundane reality in the form of a demon breaking into her condo and making a grilled cheese sandwich.

Had she been home, Christine could have told the demon to avoid using the sandwich grill, as her now-deceased cat had chewed through the insulation of the cord. She had a mind to fix it - the cord, not the cat, which was decidedly beyond patching up with electrical tape - but as usual she had left the task for a more opportune time, having understandably failed to anticipate that her apartment would be invaded by a being from another plane with a hankering for grilled cheese.

But the demon had taken great care to ensure that Christine, the only person who knew the dangers of the frayed cord, was not at home at the time of the sandwich-making, and therefore was not around to warn him, nor even to ask him why he was in her kitchen making a grilled cheese sandwich in the first place.

It occurs to me that I may have made it sound as if the demon broke into Christine's condo specifically in order to make a grilled cheese sandwich, which is not at all the case. He broke in with the singular goal of vandalizing her condo;[3] the sandwich-making was what is commonly known as a "crime of opportunity."

Here is what happened:

Once he was satisfied that Christine would be out for some time, the demon, who went by the name Nisroc, used a very small amount of interplanar energy to line up the tumblers in the lock on Christine's front door. He then thought better of this, having considered the fact that vandals tended not to be expert lock pickers. It would make a much more convincing crime scene if the door had been forced open. So, having relocked the door, Nisroc backed up a few feet into the hall and then rammed his shoulder into the door.

This was a surprisingly effective maneuver; unfortunately the effect was primarily to cause a great deal of pain to radiate from Nisroc's shoulder to the rest of his wiry, five-foot-two frame. Nisroc then miraculously re-unlocked the door, rationalizing that there must be at least one vandal out there who was also a disgruntled former locksmith.

Nisroc walked into the apartment and began systematically tossing items - candle holders, paperback books, Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons - from shelves and end tables onto the floor. He had never vandalized anything before, but he figured that disrupting the condo's organizational system was a good start. He realized, though, after getting rather far along in this task, that Christine's condo
had no organizational system. In fact, it seemed to him that he had rather improved things by clearing several shelves and end tables of random detritus.

This was a demoralizing setback to Nisroc, who didn't particularly want to be vandalizing a condo in Glendale in the first place. He had recently converted to demonhood after a long and reasonably successful career as a courier angel, and he had protested that the commission of petty crimes was beneath him. His new superiors had insisted, however, that he prove himself with a simple task before advancing to higher functions. And now he was in danger of screwing it up.

Trying to remember which items he had just put on the floor, Nisroc began to pick up objects from the floor and place them on the shelves and end tables. When it seemed like there was too much stuff on the shelves, he would move a few items back to the floor. He realized, however, that he was subconsciously aiming for a more-or-less even distribution of items, which was a sort of order. What he wanted was complete chaos, but his angelic sense of order insisted on asserting itself, despite his worst intentions. Nisroc cursed to himself. Enough of this nonsense, he thought. Time to get to the main event.

He regarded Christine's breakfast nook, which consisted of a small table and two chairs resting on low-nap tan carpet. Nisroc shook his head. Who puts carpet in a breakfast nook? He told himself he'd be doing the owner a favor by ruining the carpet. Probably even improving the resale value, not that anybody was buying condos in Glendale these days.

Right, ruining the carpet. How does one go about ruining carpet? A can of spray paint would come in handy, but Nisroc hadn't thought to bring any. He meticulously ransacked the kitchen, looking for something capable of causing permanent damage to the carpet. In the fridge, behind a block of cheddar cheese and a Tupperware container of something blue and fuzzy, he found a ketchup bottle. Bingo.

He carried the ketchup bottle to the breakfast nook and popped open the lid. Time to do some serious damage, he thought. But there was only about half a bottle of ketchup, and he wanted to make it count. He didn't want to just make random blotches of ketchup. It should be something meaningful, something offensive. Something that would make the owner really want to get rid of the carpet. A satanic symbol, he though. Yes, that's it.

Unfortunately, Nisroc didn't know any satanic symbols. That is, he knew the official logo that Lucifer's marketing people had come up with - a vertical ellipse with horns protruding from it, encircled by a horizontal ellipse - but that logo never really took off and was rarely used any more because people tended to confuse it with the Toyota emblem.

As a result, demons working on earth who wanted to leave a Satanic calling card were left with the symbols that had been devised by humans, such as goat heads, hexagrams and the evil eye. As a new transfer, however, Nisroc hadn't yet attended Lucifer's seminar on Branding for the New Millennium, and was thus starting from scratch.

He had heard that an upside down cross was sometimes used, so he started with that, carefully drawing perpendicular ketchup lines on the carpet. He was rather satisfied with the result until he realized that he had drawn it upside down from the perspective of someone in the kitchen - when viewed from the front door, it was a normally oriented cross. Nisroc cursed again. He didn't have much ketchup left. Now what?

Nisroc started to feel hungry. Angels technically have no need to eat, but Nisroc, like many agents of Heaven who have spent altogether too much time on the Mundane Plane, had developed some bad habits. One of these habits was eating when he was nervous. He eyed Christine's sandwich grill and remembered the block of cheddar in the fridge. A grilled cheese sandwich might be just the thing to calm his nerves.

He had to plug the grill in to make it work; someone, it seemed, had carelessly left it unplugged. As he set about making a grilled cheese sandwich with the defective sandwich grill, it occurred to him that the cross could rather easily be made into a swastika, which he vaguely remembered was the emblem of some very evil group of people, like the Nazis or ABBA.

Munching on his sandwich, Nisroc lengthened the shorter legs of the cross and then drew new lines extending them at right angles to the left. Perfect! Or... bloody hell, did the swastika spin to the right or the left? Jiminy Crickets, this was turning out to be a huge pain in the ass. It spun right, didn't it? Yes, he thought it did. And anyway, the carpet's owner would still want to replace it, even if the swastika were facing the wrong way, wouldn't they? And what the hell was that smell?

Nisroc gasped as he turned to face the kitchen. Flames were licking up the curtains beside the kitchen window. Now what? Pangs of guilt and fear struck his heart. Had Heaven found him out? Was this the fire of divine retribution? As he watched it slowly begin to tickle the cabinets, he reflected that if Heaven were punishing him, they were taking their sweet time about it. No, this was not the terrifying Fire of Divine Justice; it was the less frightening but still dangerous Fire of Defective Kitchen Appliances. Still, it would behoove him to leave quickly. He had to assume that if the possibly mis-oriented swastika didn't do the trick, the fire certainly would.

Nisroc finished off his sandwich and left.

[1] Re-asking a question that is usually understood to be a rhetorical greeting in order to get a more enthusiastic response is a time-honored tradition among speakers who find themselves, through no fault of their own, addressing a bored, irritable group of spectators who would rather be home watching television.

[2] Although Christine thought of Jonas Bitters as a fundamentalist because of his rigid adherence to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, technically his reliance on the
Angler's Almanac as an additional source of revelation disqualified him from the fundamentalist club.

[3] If you don't know why a demon would want to vandalize Christine's apartment, well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you're a bit out of the loop in Heavenly intrigue. You probably should start attending some meetings. The good news is that it makes a better story if you don't know at this point.


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Mercury Falls
by Robert Kroese
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