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“Mary Anne! Mary Anne, come quickly!” Joanna called in her usual energetic voice. She was a few clouds over, hopping up and down, descending slowly from the crest of each leap in the way human souls could in Heaven.

Mary Anne regarded her friend with an arched eyebrow and a considerable amount of disgruntlement.

She had been deeply engrossed in A Brief History of Time prior to the disruption. Not to mention, she had nestled quite comfortably into the nook of her own little cloud. Still, the pull of her companion’s enthusiasm eventually got to her the way it always did. Joanna was irrepressible, but it was endearing.

With her customary heavy sigh at Joanna’s antics, Mary Anne obliged and rose from her perfectly cozy spot, floating her way from cloud to cloud until she reached her friend of some 200 years. She insisted on calling it floating rather than flying.

Only the angels had wings, after all.

“What is so urgent to the dead, Joanna?” Mary Anne asked patiently.

The other woman rolled her eyes. That was one of Mary Anne’s favorite questions to ask. “What else?” Joanna asked with a mischievous smirk. She gestured downward and behind her. A circle about two feet in diameter had been opened in the cloud, and within it, Mary Anne could read various news headlines. Phrases like racial injustice and civil unrest were heavily featured, but pandemic and COVID-19 dominated the cycling images and the lips of the newscasters. She regarded the scrying circle and its contents for a few long moments as Joanna trembled anxiously beside her.

“It’s a madhouse down there,” Joanna was saying. “More so than usual.”

Mary Anne shrugged. “Well, we knew that would happen ever since 2016 when they elected”—she stretched the word out with disdain—“that malignant, narcissistic sociopath. Though this disease is rather upsetting. When was the last one like this?”

“Oh, I remember!” Joanna piped. “Sometime in… oh, what are they measuring on these days… 19…18? The keepers at the Gates certainly had their hands full!”

Mary Anne nodded. “Hm… another plague so soon after the last? Poor Pete’s probably at his wit’s end training the new temps.”

Joanna nodded somberly. “The disease line is rather longer than usual,” she added. “And has a disproportionate amount of Americans.”

Mary Anne scoffed darkly. “Again, saw that one coming, I’m afraid.”

Both women scowled down toward the scrying pool, at a clip from a press conference where a man was disrespecting the dead in one of the multiple ways he had been for the past 4 years. Mary Anne kicked a tuft of cloud into the circle, briefly muddling the image. Joanna nodded in approval and harrumphed for extra emphasis.

“I’m calling Ulfhild,” Joanna proclaimed. “She’s always keeping an eye on her descendants. I hope they’re doing well.”

“Is that the Ulfhild we know in Valhalla or the one in Fólkvangr?”

“Fólkvangr,” Joanna said decisively.

Mary Anne inclined her head and stepped back from the scrying circle to give Joanna some room to make the call.

“I’ll see how Phaedra’s doing over in the Meadows.” Then she paused, noticing the worry apparent on Joanna’s face. She placed a hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “Do not fear,” she said gently. “They will come through fine, as they always have.” She waved a hand around the clouds, pointing a bit higher, to where the gleaming silver streets could be seen through the clouds. “Besides, times like this provide many opportunities to meet new people. Imagine being stuck with just me forever.” Mary Anne chuckled. “You never would have learned about memes.”

Joanna laughed. “I suppose you’re right.” She perked up considerably. “Oh, don’t forget that tonight we’re watching the Hell-bound dominionists react as the good atheists walk through the Gates. Marty and Jonathan will be there with the popcorn. Be sure to invite Phaedra too! I do so love her commentary.”

Mary Anne nodded and floated toward the portals with a smile. Tuesday nights were her favorite. “Wouldn’t miss it for eternity.”

Ariel Cross

Ariel Cross is a fantasy author and blogger with a love for representation and subversion. To them, happiness is a warm glass of mead on a cold day.

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