I arrived at Muddy Gap High bright and early Monday morning. My first impression of the school was that is was…great, totally doable as an institution of education. Okay, I lied. The place was a cockroach-infested rattrap. The brick walls sagged and the foundation sunk into the weedy, wind-blown lawn. It looked ancient. Nothing in or around it had been updated and was built on the outer edge of the rickety old town of Muddy Gap.
The inside wasn’t much better. The floor tiles were broken, paint peeled off the walls and it smelled of musty mothballs and public restroom. Gross.
“Okay. Ready for anything. It’s probably not as bad as it looks,” I said to myself.
“That’s the ticket.”
I jumped a foot in the air, freaking out. There, by my side in the hallway was a tall, lanky angel with frizzy black hair and skin the color of dark chocolate. He wore cowboy boots with gym shorts and topped it off with a frayed grey Muddy Gap High hoodie. He packed minimal heat. Just a glossy silver gun that looked like a policeman’s glock shoved down the back of his shorts.
“Sup?” he said casually. “You’re new.”
“Geez! Do you do this to all new Guardians?” I said taking a deep breath to calm my racing heart.
“Wouldn’t know. We haven’t had a new Guardian show up since I got here sixty years ago. My name is Duffy,” Duffy extended his hand with a grin. I shook it, still slightly hyped out.
“Okay. Just so you know, I’ll probably forget your name. It’s nothing personal,” I said. “I’m Gideon.”
“Sweet, a head case,” Duffy said. “It’s better than what I’ve got.”
“I’m a chronic prankster,” he shrugged. “Doesn’t go over well with The Big Boss when I can’t help punking my Mortals.”
Despite his serious demeanor, I laughed. It just busted out of me before I could stop it. I stifled it with another question.
“Who are your Mortals?” I was hoping he could help me out with mine. If there weren’t too many students at Muddy Gap High, I might be able to do a quick process of elimination and figure out who she was before too long. Last resort was to call Dispatch or Headquarters, which I really didn’t want to do. If it hadn’t already happened, news of my name-blanking stupidity would spread like wildfire.
“Don’t know. It changes after graduation. I’m assigned to the entire school and there are a few of us on duty actually. I’ll introduce you.” Duffy turned and motioned me to follow. Down the hall, lounging on the school benches were three more angels loafing on their backsides in sheer boredom. He pointed to an Asian looking kid who was short, looked about thirteen years old and armed with two curved swords sheathed and strapped to his back. He was compact and twitchy. “This is Min. Been a guardian for the J.A.C. for about two hundred years, I think. I’m not sure what his problem is, but he doesn’t have much of a vocabulary to explain it.”
“Chop,” he said, menacingly. He folded his arms across his chest and glowered at me.
“And he will, so watch out,” Duffy said. “This is Phil.” Duffy pointed to a kid who was all arms, legs and feet. His shirt fell short of covering his caved in belly button and his jeans were six inches shy of his bony ankles. He was armed with a bazooka he rested his elbow on, but frankly he didn’t look strong enough to lift it.
“I’m a klutz,” Phil said, scratching at his sparse chin stubble. He had zits, a lot of them, bright green eyes and longish brown hair that curled messily over his ears. “I’ve been stuck at sixteen for about eighty years and I got two left feet.”
“So if you hear a crash, Phil will probably be in the middle of it,” Duffy said. That left the girl snoozing on the bench. She had long blond hair that was more white than yellow that framed her oval face, but she wore black lipstick, black nail polish, black t-shirt, black jacket, black ripped jeans, black… yeah, she wore a lot of black. Duffy kicked the bottom of her shiny black combat boots.
“Wake up, Anna!” Duffy shouted. The girl snorted awake for a fleeting few seconds, shot me a two fingered wave and snuggled back down on her bench to nod off again. “Well, that’s Anna. She’s the high school Miracle worker. And yeah, she’s narcoleptic pretty bad.”
“Sleep paralysis. She nods off mid sentence sometimes. It’s totally annoying.”
“Chop?” Min asked, hopefully as he crouched over Anna. He measured her neck with his hands and moved her chin aside for a clean slice with his swords.
“No chopping Anna,” Duffy said. Min was bummed, but he backed off. Duffy shook his head and turned to grin at me. “That’s all of us. We pretty much take care of the entire school. It’s not a hard job. Mostly we keep kids from doing dumb stuff like littering candy wrappers and getting to class on time. It a sweet shindig if you ask me.”
I didn’t see how Muddy Gap High could be sweet at anything!
“This can’t be right. I was sent to look after one Mortal,” I exclaimed, confused. “That’s a big job, not a shindig.”
“Sorry, dude. Muddy Gap High is where junior angels get sent for a little rest and relaxation,” Duffy said.
“I don’t rest,” I said. “Where are the demons?”
“They come and go. They get bored after a while and leave.”
My mouth hung wide open. “What about demon fighting, demon hunting and battles over Mortals? You’ve got to have that.”
Anna snickered in her sleep. “Nope. You in Podunk land, Gideon,” she slurred dreamily, her eyes still shut.
“We don’t get demons around here,” Phil said. “And if we do, they’re usually lost.”
“Chop,” Min sighed mournfully.
My gut plummeted to my ankles. No wonder the Transportation operator was laughing. I just got assigned the lamest Mortal detail on planet earth. I rubbed wearily at my forehead.
“This can’t be happening to me,” I groaned. I should have taken kitchen clean up duties. At least there was some action at Headquarters.
“Buck up, Gideon,” Duffy said, thumping me jovially on the shoulder. “Who’s the Mortal? Maybe it’s not as bad as you think it is.”
“Um, Buffalo,” I said, grimacing. “That’s not it. Give me a second, it’ll come to me.”
I tired to drum up the memorization technique Ginger… no, Tabby (that couldn’t be right) the shrink lady taught me. I was in the American west and the name kind of sounded like a cowboy, but for a girl.
“Buck?” I mused, wracking my brain.
“Did you just forget your Mortal’s name?” Phil snickered.
“Chop,” Min commiserated, shaking his head.
“No. It’s in there. I just got to remember it. It’s Bill!” I said.
“Bill isn’t a girl’s name,” Duffy said.
“I know, but it reminded me of Buffalo Bill, the cowboy,” I said snapping my fingers. “But that’s obviously not her name.”
“Your Mortal is channeling Buffalo Bill Cody?” Phil said. “No wonder you got sent to Muddy Gap High, dude. Your memory sucks.”
“Cody! HA! I knew I’d get it. Her last name is Cody,” I exclaimed at last. Yeesh. Finally!
“Katelyn Cody?” Duffy said. The hall went silent and nobody seemed to want to look at me.
“Good luck with that,” Anna said between snores.
Duffy put his arm around my shoulders and steered me down the hall. Phil hefted his bazooka onto his shoulder, nearly buckling under the weight. He nudged Anna awake as he and Min followed behind us. I could hear Anna groan, but she got to her feet and sleep walked.
Duffy steered me into a classroom where the math teacher was droning on about variables. The Mortals looked half alive as they listened, slack-jawed. Duffy pointed out a girl in the front, actively taking notes. She was more awake than everyone, including the teacher. The weird part was that nobody seemed to take any interest in their surroundings, except her.
“That’s Katelyn Cody?” I said. Shock must have shorted out sane thinking because I blurted, “She’s… normal.”
Duffy whacked me upside the head. “Get your head in the game, Gideon. Sure she’s normal. It’s the sane ones you’ve got to look out for. They’re the worst.”
“What do you mean?”
“They hide their problems deep down where you can’t see them until… shoom!” Phil sucker punched the air. “You’re done for.”
“Whatever,” I said. “She’s Mortal.”
“Choppy,” Min said ominously.
“You’re being ridiculous,” I said, but their somber faces were freaking me out. “Mortals need us. They need the Angel Corps to protect them from demons.”
Anna slumped forward against the doorframe, eyes shut and teetering on the verge of collapse. “I don’t see any demons. Do you, Gideon?”
She had a point. I’d never been anywhere on earth that wasn’t crawling with some kind of hellish shadowy scum. It was surreal.
“We haven’t seen action in years,” Duffy said. “So, if you’re going to stay here, you should at least learn to have a little fun.”
“What’s on the roster today, Duffy?” Phil said excitedly.
“Do I have to wake up for it?” Anna dozed.
Duffy rubbed his hands together as he surveyed the lethargic classroom.
“Chop?” Min said as he had unsheathed one of his swords and gently hooked the tip of the blade in the nose of a sleeping Mortal.
“Sure, Min, you chop, but do it nice. I’m thinking with a few of these we can get a good prank in. Phil, get some soda pop from the vending machine.”
Phil whooped and did a gangly leap for joy. He dashed for the door, but made it as far as the threshold before tripping over his own feet. He did a spectacular nosedive into the hallway, tumbled head over heels and landed in a twisted sprawl.
“I’m okay!” he said. He flailed for a bit as he tried to get his arms untangled from behind his back and Min had to unhook his elbows and haul him to his feet. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. Phil was an expert at clumsiness. Not even a professional stuntman could do what came naturally to Phil.
“Don’t worry, that’s normal,” Anna said dreamily. It was weird talking to a sleeping girl. She smiled at me with her eyes shut and mouth open. “Duffy is a mastermind with pra…” She took about two steps and fell flat on her face, knocked out cold. When I rolled her over, she was sleeping again.
“Will she be okay like this?” I said pulling her away from the door so she wouldn’t get stepped on.
“Yeah,” Duffy said. “We usually leave her wherever she falls.”
Regardless, I did a quick check to make sure her nose wasn’t broken when she fell. She had a cut under her eye, but it was already half healed. Normally I had a serious soft spot for Miracles, especially the girls. They were an amazing bunch of angels, but I’d never experienced one like Anna. She was out cold and snoring like a freight train.
This was the weirdest bunch of junior angels I’d ever run across. Min laughed.
“Choppy!” he giggled as he pointed at Anna as if her narcolepsy was the most hilarious thing he’d seen all day.
“Do you know any other words?” I said. Min still grinned at me as if he didn’t understand a word I was saying.
“Stick around, Gideon,” Duffy said as he landed a sloppy wet-willy in the ear of one of the Mortal boys. “I’m thinking we should shadow belch a few of these kids. It’ll be epic. I’m thinking of making the teacher have some serious gas too. That ought to liven it up a bit in here.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Still, I had a job to do. “Sorry,” I said as I walked over to my Mortal’s desk and stood behind her. “The Boss gave me a job, and I am here to do it.”
“Like what?” Duffy said. He extracted a straw from his shorts pocket and began prepping spitballs.
“Guide and protect. It’s my job.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Gid, we’re happy to have new wings at Muddy Gap High, but you got stiffed by The Big Guy,” he said. “You might as well make the best of it and have a little fun.”
“I couldn’t have,” I stammered. “He gave me the assignment in person.”
“Let me guess, he promised you first class wings?”
“And He told you this was an important job?”
“Ye-eah.” I didn’t like where this was going.
“I bet Transportation gave you a free pass travel too? They call it a power surge, but really, without a code, all that means is that you get sent off to the middle of nowhere and there is no record of it.”
Duffy patted me gently on the shoulder. “No need to panic, Gideon. We all got that assignment from The Boss, but I’ve got to let you down easy, man. You got sent here because you’re too good at being a Guardian for janitor work, but you suck just enough to get shoved off to the side to no-man’s land.”
Anna nodded knowingly from the floor and Min kept muttering, “chop, chop choppity chop” tersely under his breath. I didn’t like it, but he was right. I’d been in J.A.C. for way too long and it wasn’t because I was nostalgic. If I faced the truth, I wasn’t good enough.
“I-I’m… sticking it out,” I said stubbornly. “If it’s important to The Boss, it’s important to me.”
Duffy shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He took a deep breath, took aim, and plastered the side of my head with a perfectly shot wad of wet paper. Gross. Regardless, I ignored him and resituated myself behind my Mortal.
These angels had been out of the real world for so long, I swear they had lost a few brain cells. I was assigned to Insanity High where all the angels on duty were out of their flipping minds.