Arnie Pushman folded his newspaper and gazed out the window. Through the gleaming glass passed mile after mile of rolling green, dotted occasionally with specks of deep lavendar and marigold yellow. Beyond the green, Pushman knew there lay a sea of azure blue that rolled onto a sandy beach so white it almost reflected the perfect sky above.
It was enough to make a grown demon puke.
Except for the sickening scenery, Pushman loved his daily train commute into San Diego, loved this train of half-sentient fools. He loved the slouching conductor whose wife had left him for a vacuum cleaner salesman last October. He adored the piggy-eyed tax accountant with the crumbling marriage and a debt that would strain an elephant. He delighted in the delicatessen owner with the raging overbite and a three-year lease on a love nest on Fuller Street.
For a demon, it didn't get much better than this.
As personal demon to a whining and completely self-absorbed, former software engineer, Arnie Pushman had life easy. Gone were the tough and tumble days of coaxing cloistered nuns into missing morning prayer. Gone the lackluster life of tempting curious pre-teen boys to sneak into X-rated films. Yes, Pushman's newest assignment put him into a better and higher class in the netherworld, and his stock was definitely going up.
His current mark, the one who had made Arnie's millennium, was an eminently forgettable man named Howard Perlman. Divorced with five kids and two mistresses, Perlman fancied himself a ladies' man. Every morning and every evening, Perlman - with a small shove from Arnie - squirmed into suggestive conversation with a stylish, blonde banker with legs up to her ears, perky eyelids courtesy of Botox, and unnaturally pouty lips. Arnie knew she was a card carrying coke addict with three ex-husbands in her wake, but Perlman couldn't see past his own erect appendage. Unseen and unperceived, Pushman would merely whisper a word or two to his idiotic human, then he could sit back and enjoy the ride.
Except for this morning.
Something in the air nagged at Pushman, who was in his six-hundred-and-sixty-sixth year as a personal demon and was nearing retirement. He'd known of others in his circle who had reached this hellish milestone with narry a slip, but who had suddenly come upon disaster, ending their careers in ignominy and - far worse - assigned to the dregs in India, where demonic numbers would soon surpass human numbers. And the rats had a nasty habit of biting.
The train slowed slightly, and Pushman noticed a small child standing near the tracks, just in front of a station he'd never noticed before. The boy wore no shoes, and his hatless head shone golden in the sun.
What a nauseatingly adorable kid, Pushman thought as the train stopped. Out of the corner of his third eye, Pushman saw Perlman slide next to the short-skirted banker, dropping his briefcase on the floor in front of the green leather seat, thus giving him an excuse to fumble around near her trim ankles.
Good boy, Pushman thought proudly.
Outside, the boy glared at the demon's window, soft blue eyes boring into Pushman's empty heart.
Damn! What a rottenly adorable kid! If I could reach him, I'd punch him in his rotten little gut!
"Willoughby!" shouted the conductor, shuffling along the aisle and asking for tickets. "All out for Willoughby!"
Willoughby? Where the hell was Willoughby? Not on this route, he knew that much. Something definitely wasn't right here.
Ahead of him, Pushman noticed his human's demeanor had shifted. The leer that so often passed for a smile had softened into a genuine grin - how disgusting! And he had actually removed his hand from its soft and sinfully suggestive position on the banker's right thigh.
Not on my watch! Shouted Pushman, who dove forward to grab Perlman's hand and return it to its proper place.
Outside, the small boy's simple eyes tore through Pushman - he could actually feel the wretched kid's eyes searing holes into his back. "You!" he shouted, forgetting Perlman's peril and heading for the open door of the car. "You little creep! Stop looking at me, or I'll "
Pushman's words stuck in his throat, as his foot touched the ground. The kid smiled.
"Welcome to Willoughby, Mr. Pushman," the waif said, offering the demon a small hand. "Don't you want to stay?"
Arnie felt a small scream rising in his belly. The train was starting up again, its wheels rattling along the phantom track as his old car, the train, and his downwardly mobile mark, Howard Perlman, pulled out of sight.
"Who the hell are you?" he shouted at the boy, all three eyes blazing red.
"I'm your guardian angel," the child replied happily. "Now you'll get to remain here for the rest of your life."
Pushman blinked, his double tail swishing in the clean breeze of Willoughby. Somewhere, beyond the white clapboard station, past a blacksmith's shop, and to the right of a cheerful corner store called Peter's Place, Pushman could hear a choir singing.
"Don't you want to stay?" the boy's elegant voice asked. "It's heaven."
The bright strains of the choir's hymn broke momentarily, and the conductor stopped for a beat - his wings rising high, their long, white feathers reflecting the brilliant sun that shone twenty-four hours a day. "What was that?" he asked, as the singers exchanged glances. "Where's David? Has anyone seen him?"
"He's gone to the station again," one of the tenors answered, his halo slightly askew. "Shall I fetch him, Michael?"
The head angel shook his head, recognizing now the sound that had interrupted their practice. Screams again. Little David must have nabbed another one.
Good lad, thought the angel, lifting his baton. Very good.