With a soft click, the boxy 80s style alarm clock on the bedside table played some garage metal Meg had never heard before. Rolling over, she groaned and pulled the pillow over her head, but she didn’t turn it off, because as bad as it was, it still wasn’t as bad as the New Country crap it’d played when she first arrived. Stupid sappy pining love song bullshit.
She gave herself until the song ended before turning off the alarm to face the day — not that day or night ever actually happened on any reliable schedule at the Sleepy Hollow Motel. Still, pretending she had to stick to some sort of human routine kept her from going loopy. No way was she going to let the combover behind the counter win.
After hauling herself out of bed, she half-assed the mustard yellow covers back to approximately where they were supposed to go before going to check her dresser drawers. Meg wasn’t exactly the most fashionable sort of demon, but she’d had her own style before she’d landed in the afterlife’s version of a funhouse.
As she’d suspected, no leather jacket, no jeans, nothing she would’ve even considered wearing before. Instead, her choices appeared to be either a black tube top and a short red skirt or a one-piece bell-bottom monstrosity. It was an easy decision.
Sometimes Meg wondered how long she’d been dead. She didn’t feel dead, though the one other time she’d been dead she was in Hell, so she supposed she didn’t really have much to compare it to. Upside: no torture. Downside: boredom was its own kind of torture. The tiny choices she got to make were probably the best parts of her day.
A quick shower later — grumbling over the crappy water pressure changed nothing — and Meg was ready to kick the crap out of another day. There was so much time and so little to get done, there was no sense wasting another moment when she had feathers to ruffle.
The motel lobby looked exactly the same as always — same orange vinyl chairs with minimal padding, same hanging baskets of spider plants, same bowling alley chic flooring. It was actually kind of reassuring to know what to expect each day, even if it was the same old crap. Even the stupid angel was there every morning, sipping his crappy cup of coffee and reading news that must’ve been several decades out of date.
Except that, for once, the stupid angel wasn’t there. The chairs were empty, a cup of coffee was missing, and the newspaper was gone. It wasn’t like Heaven’s quietest rebel to abandon his usual seat, and Meg hadn’t passed him on the way in either. He must’ve taken his coffee to some quiet corner of the parking lot for a change.
Far from empty, however, the lobby instead played host to a brand new face, though it wasn’t her face Meg was interested in, no matter how perfect her fawn-toned skin was, framed by that ocean of midnight black hair. No, she was much more interested in the hot bod only partially covered by a white blouse and black pencil skirt. It wasn’t the typical outfit of an angel or demon, but she didn’t much care which side the newbie had ditched, as long as it meant Meg could continue to ogle Miss Legs For Days.
Fortunately for Meg, the new arrival chose that moment to sign the register, leaning down just a bit, so the fabric of her skirt outlined a perfectly rounded posterior. If someone had designed a body specifically to appeal to Meg’s personal tastes, they couldn’t have done a better job.
“Excuse me,” said the desk clerk, adjusting the lapels of his riding coat. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Meg smirked and shook her head. “Yeah, not you, your lordship. Gotta say, I’m much more interested in the hottest ass this place has ever seen. By which I mean, hello gorgeous and welcome to Not Oblivion.”
Tall, dark, and beautiful raised her head and turned around in two separate motions, in that stiff, almost robotic way that was unique to angels. Tilting her head to one side, she frowned and squinted. “I’m told this place is called the Sleepy Hollow Motel, not…Not Oblivion.”
Meg couldn’t help but chuckle. “Y’know, I think I like you. What’s your name?”
“My name is…Tirzah?” She frowned again. “It feels as if I should know more, but when I try to remember, it’s all…fuzzy.”
The desk clerk closed the registry and got out a room key just like Meg’s, complete with the exact same keychain that looked like a cartoon version of the already cartoonish desk clerk. “As I tried to explain earlier, some of our residents arrive with no memory of their death, and while it’s rather rare, some do arrive with no memories whatsoever.”
Catching Tirzah’s eyes with her own, Meg took another half step closer. “Memories are overrated. Without ‘em, it just means you get to experience everything for the first time all over again, which is kind of a blessing here, if you ask me.”
“I suppose. That does seem beneficial.”
Without warning, the desk clerk did that weird thing where he split into two copies of himself, leaving one behind to watch the desk while the other stepped out and handed Tirzah her key. “Now that that’s settled, I’ll take you to your room, Miss Tirzah. If you’ll excuse us?”
Meg stepped back and let them go, but she held Tirzah’s gaze for as long as possible. She contemplated going back for her morning coffee, but found her feet already shuffling in the direction of the door. When she thought about it, it was an easy decision. While she wasn’t interested in ruining the good thing she had going — well, good compared to eternity in the Empty anyway — Tirzah was interesting, and at the Sleepy Hollow Motel, interesting was priceless.
After securing a hiding place behind the pool shed, Meg watched the desk clerk give Tirzah a tour of the motel grounds. Nobody had ever bothered to give Meg a tour. She’d been given a key and left to find her own way. Not that any part of that had been at all difficult, but just once it would’ve been nice if someone looked out for Meg.
The tour apparently ended when the clerk left Tirzah at the door to her room. Maybe it was Meg’s imagination, but it looked like the clerk stayed long enough to make sure Tirzah’s key worked. It wasn’t like they were modern key cards or anything. Hell, it was easy to forget, but the Sleepy Hollow Motel wasn’t even a corporeal place, so the key should’ve worked just as well as all the others did without question.
There might have been a slight resistance before the key turned, as if the key wasn’t cut quite right, but that might also have been hesitation on Tirzah’s part. The door swung open, Tirzah entered her room and closed the door behind her, and the clerk walked away.
Meg figured she’d wait a few minutes, then go knock on Tirzah’s door. She had a vague sort of plan to play the friendly neighbor until Tirzah could get past the whole “demon” thing since they were sharing eternity together. Since they were both proven to be “meet in the middle” types, Meg wasn’t too worried, but just in case, she practiced what she’d say.
She hadn’t quite worked out her introduction when the clerk appeared in front of her, which probably would’ve given her a heart attack if she wasn’t a demon and already dead. Twice. In an effort to save face, Meg looked the clerk over and raised her eyebrows. “I’d say that was impressive if demons hadn’t been pulling the old jump scare since forever. Still, good execution.”
“She’s not meant for you,” replied the clerk. His expression didn’t change from his usual customer service friendly, but there was something about him that said she should cut her losses and leave.
Meg wasn’t so great at taking suggestions. “Oh really? Well then, boss man, who is she meant for?”
“Crowley,” snapped the clerk. “Or Balthazar. Or…Crowley, I think. Maybe? Both. Both of them, yes. Definitely not you.”
“Okay…is this, like, a permanent thing, or is she gonna be free later? ‘Cause, y’see chief, Tirzah’s the first person I’ve seen here who doesn’t totally suck donkey balls.” Honestly, Meg hardly knew anything about Tirzah, but the fact that she’d wanted to talk to Meg put her head and shoulders above Balthazar, and the less said about the jackass who’d killed her, the better.
The desk clerk seemed to consider before answering. “I don’t believe it will be permanent. I had not considered beyond her immediate task.”
“You had not— wow. You are aware of the whole free will thing, yeah? Kinda why we’re all here, right? Did you even think to ask Tirzah how she feels about you deciding who she can and can’t talk to?”
“You raise an interesting question. Very well, when her task is complete, she shall be free to do as she pleases, which may or may not involve speaking to you. I ask you to recall that you are the twisted remnants of a mangled human soul, which might not appeal to Tirzah.”
Well-versed in the practice of picking her battles in the presence of those more powerful than her, Meg smiled thinly. “As long as she has that choice, we’re all good. Thanks for the talk.”
The clerk nodded and walked away, disappearing before he could round the corner. Dude wasn’t exactly the best at being a person.
With her morning routine shot to shit, Meg briefly considered going back to bed. She couldn’t really sleep, but she could at least get comfy and zone out for awhile. Something was bugging her though, and it wasn’t going to let her rest until she’d figured it out. Curiosity won out over sloth, sending Meg to search the grounds for Gadreel.
She found him, of all places, sitting cross-legged on the ground behind the block of rooms which housed Crowley and Balthazar, coffee in one hand, newspaper on the ground beside him. His eyes were closed, his face uplifted to the not-sun wearing a blissful smile. Honestly, it made Meg want to punch his stupid face.
Hoping to startle some sort of reaction out of him, Meg leaned down and whispered in his ear, “What kinda drugs did you smuggle in here to get that loopy smile?”
Gadreel’s lack of reaction was highly unsatisfying. Instead of any of the things she’d hoped for, he smiled a little wider and took a sip of his coffee before replying, “Good morning, demon-who-chooses-to-be-called-Meg. I have ingested no narcotics beyond this mildly stimulating beverage, but listening to the song of nature far outstrips the power of any possible stimulant, for the wonder of my father’s creation is unparalleled.”
Meg tried to hear what he heard, she really did, but there was nothing, not even the rustle of wind in the trees at the edge of the lot. “Yeah…I got nothin’. Either you’ve got super hearing or you’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”
“Might I suggest a third option?” Gadreel replied, finally opening his eyes. “This place, you must have noticed by now, is ever-changing. If you go in search of the things that bring you joy, they will come to you.”
Meg gave the looming void in the distance a significant look. “That sounds like some hippy dippy bullshit. You gonna offer me a glass of that Kool-Aid you’re drinking?”
Glancing down at his coffee, Gadreel frowned. “I am drinking no Kool-Aid. My mug contains only fortifying green tea, similar to the blend grown by Buddhist monks.”
“Hate to break it to you, fruitcake, but that’s crappy motel lobby coffee, presumably made by the tacky dude who runs this place.”
“Did you seek me out only to insult me, or was there something else?”
Meg shrugged. “Honestly, pissing you off is kinda the best part of my daily routine, but for once, no. I just wanna know why you’re out here when you’ve been in the lobby every single morning since I got here. Kinda makes a girl wonder what else is different, y’know?”
“There is nothing nefarious behind my change in location. The man behind the desk asked me nicely if I could vacate the premises for the morning. Far be it from me to refuse our host a simple favour when asked. He said that I could return tomorrow.”
“And he didn’t say why?”
“I felt it was not my place to ask.”
“Well, thanks for the intel. Enjoy your imaginary birds and coffee-tea, I guess.”
“I look forward to the day you begin to understand your own afterlife, and I wish you luck.”
“Yeah, screw you too, nutjob.”
He didn’t even wait for her to leave before closing his eyes to listen for imaginary birds again.
While Meg hadn’t exactly promised anything, she had essentially agreed not to interfere with whatever Tirzah needed to do with Balthazar and Crowley. Technically, she could’ve knocked on Tirzah’s door right away, but that was probably a good way to get kicked out of the motel, and Meg really didn’t want to get any closer to the Empty than she already was. With Gadreel talking like a fortune cookie, and the lobby off limits for whatever reason, Meg was more bored than usual, which was saying a lot.
Flopping onto her bed, she pressed the power button on her TV remote until it turned on, flickered off and on a few times, and finally stayed on. If she couldn’t do anything else, at least TV was there for her. Maybe she’d watch a couple shows, then go take an extra long shower and hope the hot water stayed warm.
Except the only show was some stupid hospital drama crap. Things were bad enough that Meg was considering watching it anyway, but it made no sense. The head baby doctor wore some kind of cosplay, one of the nurses went around granting wishes, and as near as she could tell, there was a new nurse trying to hook up with both of them. Meg almost watched it just to see how that last bit would play out, but the acting was terrible. She mashed the power button to turn it off, freezing with her finger poised to press it again, because for once, it turned off on the first try.
Given how her day was going, Meg wasn’t even going to bother trying the shower. It’d probably skip the lukewarm stage and go straight to freezing cold, and if she wanted that, she might as well go swimming.
Just as she was about to give up and nap — probably resulting in a new day when she woke up — something moved outside, visible through her 70s single-paned glass window. Across the lot, Tirzah left her room wearing a smoking hot black bikini.
Meg had been avoiding the pool for awhile. It was right in the middle of everything, and if she wanted to stay away from Crowley, the pool was the worst place to be. Easier, really, to stick to a routine that didn’t include swimming. Except that was before Tirzah showed up.
She wasn’t going to visit Tirzah or interfere with anything, she was just going to float in the pool and kill time. If the whole Crowley/Tirzah/Balthazar thing happened to go down in public, she wasn’t going to get involved, she just wanted to know if it happened. After all, it wasn’t like Crowley could kill her again.
There had been a swimsuit in one of her drawers on the first day, but she’d ignored it. Of course when she wanted it, the damn thing was nowhere to be found. Screw it, she’d swim in her afterlife-issued white bra and granny panties if she had to.
One motel towel around her shoulders, Meg walked barefoot to the pool. Tirzah lay in one of the poolside lounge chairs, eyes closed. Dropping her towel and clothing on another chair on the opposite side of the pool, Meg didn’t give herself any time to reconsider, sliding into the deep end as soon as she was down to her unmentionables.
It was cold. She’d thought the shower when the hot water tank was empty was cold, but the pool was colder than it had any right to be. The day felt like an overcast early summer day in the American Midwest, which should’ve been fine for swimming, but the pool had apparently decided otherwise. Although, as far as Meg was concerned, it wasn’t the best day for sunbathing, but Tirzah didn’t seem to mind.
The pool didn’t warm up at all. Meg began to think swimming was a bad idea. She was no stranger to torture, and she could’ve easily stayed in the pool all day despite the cold, but what was the point? Tirzah wasn’t paying any attention to her.
Hauling herself up the white plastic ladder, Meg clamped down on her imaginary meatsuit’s need to shiver. She was having the best/worst “day” ever since her second death but she wasn’t going to let it ruin her image if she could help it. Water cascading off her skin, she hurried her steps back to the chair with her belongings and snatched up her towel, only to hear a most loathsome voice.
“Looks like they’ll let just about anyone swim here now. Darling, are you sure you still want to go skinny dipping after Lucifer’s whore was in there? Who knows what we might catch.”
Dropping the towel, Meg spun around to face Crowley. “You’ll catch my fist in your face if you don’t shut up, jackass.”
“Come now,” said Balthazar, laying a hand on Crowley’s shoulder, “why waste your breath on that unfortunate stain when we’ve a far more intriguing new arrival before us.”
Balthazar’s hand trailed off Crowley’s shoulder as he stepped toward Tirzah, but Crowley persisted. “You wouldn’t underestimate her if you knew what she’s done.”
From her lounge chair, where she’d looked asleep moments before, Tirzah said, “Leave her alone.” She frowned then, as if she’d confused herself, but it was the barest flash of visible emotion. Pausing to make eye contact with each of them, she continued, her voice deliciously rough in a way Meg had failed to appreciate before. “Is this not our afterlife? We should be enjoying what is instead of arguing over what was? Can I convince one of you gentlemen to show me around?”
She’d already had the grand tour earlier. Whatever this was, it probably had something to do with Tirzah’s “purpose”, which felt more and more like “escort service”. Meg swallowed her protests and instead covered herself with her towel.
Balthazar offered a hand to Tirzah. “I would be delighted. Crowley, darling, I think this might be a two man job.”
“Is that so?” replied Crowley, eyebrows raised. “Dare I ask, what became of ‘slow’?”
Meg couldn’t help but shake her head as she dried herself with the towel and picked up her clothing. There was some sort of relationship drama between the two of them, which she’d missed entirely while avoiding them, and which Tirzah’s presence seemed to agitate.
Taking Balthazar’s hand, Tirzah stood. “Slow is a speed, the opposite of fast, but I fail to see how that applies to our current conversation.”
Letting go of Tirzah, Balthazar held out both hands to Crowley. “Slow hasn’t changed one bit. I merely thought we might get to know our newest neighbor over a cup of tea and perhaps see whether her rooms contain anything ours don’t.”
“I doubt she’s got a mini bar,” replied Crowley, crossing his arms over his chest.
Tirzah frowned. “I don’t think my room has anything smaller than it’s supposed to be.”
Crowley scoffed. “God, you’re at your factory default settings, aren’t you? How the bloody hell did you end up here?”
With their attention off her for the moment, Meg could escape the two meatheads and go back to her regular, boring routine. She had her towel wrapped around her and clothes in hand and was just waiting for the right moment to duck away unnoticed, but drew up short when she heard Tirzah’s helpless stammer. By all rights, Meg should’ve just left her to be fought over like a piece of meat.
“Leave the chick alone,” Meg interrupted, as surprised as everyone else to be defending another angel after Cas. “She doesn’t remember anything. Seems like dying rebooted her hard drive.”
“Must be nice,” replied Crowley. “Whose balls do I have to jiggle to get a clean slate?”
His pathetic angel face looking like he’d just lost a puppy, Balthazar took a step toward Crowley. “As simple as that? You’d really rather forget everything? Myself included?”
“You wouldn’t?” Crowley spread his arms, incredulous. “You’ve said it yourself, new experiences reign supreme here, so a completely fresh start would be bloody priceless. We’d still be next door neighbors, so we could still take a thousand years to get to first base if we wanted.”
“You are an absolute walnut! Did you ever stop to consider that I might not want you to change?”
“Oh, is that why you were so ready to throw me over for the first non-Gadreel angel to cross your path?”
From behind the block of rooms housing Crowley and Balthazar came the reminder that nothing in their afterlife was very far away. “I take no offense, brother. Please, continue to exclude me from your dating pool.”
Closing his eyes, Balthazar shook his head and called back, “Rest assured, my dear brother, if you and I were the only two here, I’d gladly remain celibate. Go back to your birds.” Addressing Crowley, he continued, “I never imagined you’d be one for monogamy, but if that’s what you want, I’m all yours.”
A smile crept up on Crowley, making him look like the twitterpated fool he was, until he must’ve remembered they weren’t alone. “Come along, darling. I think I know a place where we won’t be disturbed.”
The two of them left in the direction of the motel lobby, both grinning like idiots. Meg waited until they were around the corner before approaching Tirzah. “So. Did that fulfill your ‘purpose’ or whatever, or do you still need to do more crap?”
Tirzah didn’t even stop to think before she answered, “That was not what my creator intended, but the outcome was as desired. Yes, I believe my purpose has been fulfilled.”
“So, what? You were supposed to get those two— Wait, creator? What are you?”
“I am the beta version of my creator’s project to create an appealing artificial lifeform simulating an angel. My creator believed my presence would induce jealousy in one or both of the males, resulting in an acceleration of their bonding process.”
That…was a lot to process. Rather than think about the whole ‘artificial being’ thing, Meg focused on what made sense. “His plan was to drop a hot chick here and hope it’d make them jealous in a good way? Wow. Is that why he kicked Gadreel outta the lobby? Must’ve been afraid nature boy would fall for you first. I mean, his plan didn’t really work, he just got lucky, but that’s fucked up.”
Tirzah’s brow creased in obvious thought. “I am neither hot, nor was I dropped, but the rest is accurate.”
Meg made a point of visually appreciating Tirzah from head to toe. Artificial being or not, chick had it going on. “You and me are gonna have to disagree on that one, ‘cause you’re easily the hottest person here.”
Understanding lit Tirzah’s eyes and wonder transformed her face. “You find me attractive. That shouldn’t be possible. I wasn’t created for you.”
Against her better judgement, Meg closed the distance between them, dropping her armload of clothing on the lounge chair. “Okay, ignoring that, but you’re here, and you’ve done what you needed to do. Y’know what that means? You can do whatever or whoever the hell you want. So whadda ya say, hottie long legs? If you can ignore the nasty smell of pool chlorine and motel soap on me, you wanna go test out your new bed together?”
Tirzah got a far away look on her face before tilting her head to one side. “I don’t have a functioning sense of smell. Is that a problem?”
“Y’know what?” Meg leaned in on tiptoes and took a good whiff of Tirzah’s hair, which didn’t seem to smell like anything at all. “I think we can make this work. At least, if that’s what you want.”
A hint of a smile curved Tirzah’s lips. “I think I do, yes. Let’s go…test my bed? Also, do you have a name?”
“People call me Meg, but it’s not the name I started with. I’m thinking of changing it. I’ll listen to suggestions.”
“Hmm…how about…” She looked around. “Chair?”
“That’s not really— I’m gonna go ahead and assume you were complimenting my ass. No rush, we’ll come up with something.” Meg hooked her arm in Tirzah’s. “We’ve got forever.”