Before the Paradise of Pleasure This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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The garden overgrows itself, vines twining up trees, flowers flowing like water over neighboring bushes, weeds spawning thistle in each spare corner. The flora has not been tended for years.
The two angels, who guard the spinning sword at the garden’s entrance, rest, floating a half-inch off the ground.
They hate their job.
“We could at least do with a television,” comments one, slightly broader than his neighbor and a pleasing shade of amethyst.
“Try telling that to the Big Man Upstairs,” replies the other, her body a light emerald.
“I have.”
“I know. You couldn’t sit down for weeks after that.” She laughs roughly and he rolls his eyes, rubbing his angelic a**.
“I don’t need to be reminded. I think I still have scorch marks on my – ”
“He doesn’t like to be told that He’s wrong,” cuts in the emerald one. “And no need to be crude, Nat.” Nathaniel, blushing deep purple, hurriedly stops massaging his privates.
“He can’t stand the possibility that He’s imperfect like the rest of us.”
“Hey, I know some angels like that,” concurs the female stridently. “Like that frickin’ Raziel, flying around like he owns Heaven.”
“Yeah, he’s an a**hole,” agrees Nat, inching closer to his partner. “Maybe he’ll get Earth-duty one of these days; that would show him, right Lillith?”
“Please don’t call me that. I go by Lilly now, remember? Ever since that stupid demon-woman had to ruin a perfectly good name…”
“Hey, I like Lilly. It suits you.” Nat grins hopefully but Lilly floats away from him, watching the burning sword. Several silent seconds pass by while the two angels ponder their next move.

(What a loser, thinks Lilly. I wish he’d just give up. I’m not going to do anything with him. Maybe if I appeal to the Boss I can get a new partner. Then again I might only end up with a burned – )

(I wonder what I can bring up next, thinks Nat. Geez, forty years and you sure run out of conversation topics. Maybe I can talk more about Raziel, she seems to hate him. Nah, I’ll seem jealous. Adam? Yeah, sure, it’s been a few months since I brought him up.)

“Adam hasn’t tried anything in a few decades, huh?” Lilly rolls her crystal-green eyes and purposely floats to the other side of the sword.
“He’s given up,” she replies, because any conversation is better than nothing, even with this bozo. “He’s moved on.”
“Those first few years he certainly gave us a run for our money, huh?” Nat laughs to himself and Lilly resists the urge to grab the sword and run him through. “Remember when he tried to climb over the fence? That was funny. He’d almost made it and then he hit the prickers at the top and fell all the way back down.”
“I remember. I was there.” Lilly can’t keep the exasperation out of her voice but Nat doesn’t notice; he’s still lost in his own memories.
“Oh and then there was the time he tried buying us out, tried to sell me his favorite lamb in return for entrance to the garden. As if I would want a lamb! Hate them anyway, pesky little things.”
“I think they’re cute,” snaps Lilly.
“Oh, of course, they certainly have their redeeming features,” Nat hurriedly adds, inwardly cursing himself. “But why would he want to get back in anyway? It’s not all it’s cracked up, Paradise, given that it hasn’t had a gardener in years. Sure, it’s got shade, water, fruit, but there’s a serious poison ivy problem in there. And those d*** birds make a helluva racket in the mornings.”
“Listening to them is better than hearing you snore,” jibes Lilly. “You always fall asleep on me at night. You don’t even need to sleep, you’re an angel!”
“Yeah, but it’s the newest craze. You know, one of those human things that sort of gets picked up and tried around Heaven. Feels great once you figure it out and get used to not remembering what’s happened while you were asleep.”
“Not remembering?” Lilly snorts. “I’d hate that. Don’t pay attention to those stupid trends, humans have no clue what’s good for them.” Nat eyes her out of the corner of his lilac eyes. He’s getting the sneaking suspicion that she’s only contradicting him for the fun of it. They relapse into silence.
Nat hums tunelessly, a talent he’s been perfecting for years.
Lilly, infuriated, glares at the garden rather than look at him. The unkempt trees glare back, forbidding entry. A crow caws loudly from a nearby thornbush, picking at worms in the dirt. Lilly shivers and looks away.

“What’s that?” Lilly asks at length, gazing into the distance. Nat drifts over to her, hovering a tad closer than strictly necessary.
“What?” he asks, peering off in the direction she’s looking.
“That speck. Look.” Lilly points one jade arm. “There’s another! Can you see that far?” Nat, having slightly better vision if slightly weaker brainpower, makes out arms, legs, and a head on each tiny speck.
“They’re people. Not Adam, though, too young. Must be Cain and Abel.”
“Who?” Lilly asks, genuinely confused.
“Adam’s sons,” replies Nat, with an infuriatingly superior tone.
“How did you know that?”
“Talked to Gabriel. He’s been keeping an eye on them. Boss-man’s orders. Apparently they’re quite the troublemakers.” Lilly grumbles noncommittally, annoyed that she didn’t know that particular bit of information.
“What are they doing?” Nat strains his eyes farther. The two specks have converged on the plain.
“They appear to be fighting,” he says, squinting. “Or hugging very tightly.” He raises his eyebrows at Lilly, but she is too distracted to notice. “Nope, definitely fighting. I think one has a knife.”
The two angels watch in silence for a moment.
“Do you think we should stop them? Someone could get hurt.” Lilly, despite her best efforts, can’t quite get the anxiety out of her voice.
“Nah, we’re not supposed to leave our post. Besides, God gets annoyed in the extreme when we screw around with his creations. Remember when Gabriel got that sheep and – ”
“Yeah, yeah,” interrupts Lilly quickly. “I know. They seem to be going at it pretty roughly, though.” She shields her eyes with one hand, leaning closer to Nat to see better. He debates the pros and cons of putting his arm around her shoulders but before he can decide she cuts in again.
“Nat! One of them is running off! And the other’s just…lying there…” Bewildered, she turns to him and he surveys the scene.
“Holy s***!” Nat cries, leaping backward and nearly impaling himself on the eternally revolving sword. “I think that dude lying on the ground is dead!”
“What?” gasps Lilly. “How do you know?”
“Well, he’s lying in a pool of his own blood and not moving and appears to have a knife sticking out of his chest, but other than that he could just be sleeping, what do you think?”

“Oh no!” cries Lilly, flying back and forth, distressed.

“Chill out, Lil, it’s not the end of the world.” He grabs her hand to stop her incessant fluttering.

“We just witnessed a – a – ” She struggles for the right word; unfortunately for her, it hasn’t been created yet.

“A murder?” hazards Nat. Lilly stops flying.

“Sure, that sounds good, rolls off the tongue. Where’d you pick that up?”

“Oh, it’s a nonsense word that I made up. I try to use it instead of swearing. You know, like “darn” or “biscuit” or “frickin.’”

“Biscuit?” asks Lilly, raising one emerald eyebrow.

“If it stops me from using God’s name in vain…”

“Whatever floats your boat.” She shakes her head, still visibly shaken. Nat holds his breath and takes his chance. Luckily, she does not shrug off the arm he drapes around her shoulders; in fact, she leans closer, resting her head on his collarbone, dripping opaque green tears that dissolve before they hit the ground. Where collar meets head, the light shines white off of them.

“It’s going to be okay,” murmurs Nat, unsure what else to say.

“I know, I’m fine. That was just really scary, like one of those cheap horror flicks you’re always trying to get me to watch with you.” She sobs a little and he squeezes her shoulder. “Wonder what Adam and Eve are up to right now.”
“Probably cooking up another son to replace this one,” Nat replies, tastelessly. “You sure you’re alright? You look pretty shaken up.”
“Yeah…I didn’t think humans could do something like that to each other.”

“Not everyone can be perfect like us.” Lilly giggles a little and sniffles, surreptitiously wiping her nose on Nat’s robe. She raises herself up and flashes a watery smile his direction.

“Thanks.” She moves off a pace or two to his left. “God’s gonna be pretty angry, isn’t he?”

“I bet he is. He doesn’t like seeing his projects fail. I told Him creating emotional apes was a bad idea, but He never listens.” Lilly snorts a laugh. Nat, hoping against hope, plunges on. “So, uh, if we ever get out of this dump, d’you maybe want to, I don’t know, go out sometime? Double date with Gabe and Michael?”

“Since when did Gabriel come out of the closet?” Lilly asks, shocked.

“Oh, they’ve been secret lovers for ages, Gabriel told me last time we had that week of vacation. They just went public. Anyway, how about it?”

“How about what?”

“Going somewhere, you and me?” He crosses his fingers.

“Yeah,” replies Lilly after a quick thought. “Sounds good.” She curses herself for being a pushover; but seeing how happy he is, she concedes that, though he may not be the brightest crayon in the box, he at least means well. And Gabe and Mike – that would be a sight to see.

The two angels continue circling the flaming sword, now lost in thought, forgetting about the body slowly disintegrating in the desert air. Nat congratulates himself on his suave maneuvering. Lillith considers restyling her hair. The sword, feeling a bit dizzy after forty years of constant spinning, pauses to rest and promptly rusts through.





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