An excerpt from Russ Colchamiro’s story “Irradia’s Gauntlet” appearing in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, funding now on Kickstarter.

“Death aaaaaaaand,” Irradia said as the seven ball dropped into the corner pocket, “destruction. That’s game. Rack ’em, bitch.”

Clad in blue jeans, black boots, and a form-fitting black t-shirt, she slugged down the last of her double whiskey.

Nodding her head to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in a Free World,” Irradia knew Darius was an equally good pool player, maybe better. But like most girls like her, she just wanted to have fun.

“I thought angels were supposed to be better sports,” said Darius, an exotically handsome Athenian with a square jaw and a penetrating gaze. He was casually dressed in beige cotton pants and an azure silk shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his biceps. “What’s with the sass?”

“Don’t complain to me because your pool skills are for shit. I suggest you spend less time whimpering like a little imp and more time on your aim.”

A top lieutenant in the Devil’s army, Darius was used to her taunts. They turned him on.

Though down three grains of soul—one for each pool ball she’d bested him by, plus another for each game he’d lost—his mouth pursed into a half-smile. It was all foreplay.

“I’m ready for another,” he said. “You?”

A beguiling, red-headed creature with a reputation for luring out the sinner masquerading as saint, Irradia turned over her glass to indicate it was bone dry. Her arctic blue eyes were as sharp as an arrow dipped in liquid nitrogen. “What do you think?”

Darius gestured to the waitress—a blonde, tattooed nymph who gave him the finger, her way of acknowledging that she’d bring another round whenever she felt like it.

Smelling of booze, smoke, sex, and unbridled terror, Mila’s was the last stop before their fates were decided—neutral territory between Heaven and Hell.

Though time was ambiguous in that illusive netherworld, Darius had studied Irradia long enough. He was about to suggest they move to a corner booth—he had plans of his own to set in motion—but then she winked at a bronze-skinned demon two tables over, eyeing his taut frame.

Darius knew Irradia was just playing games, trying to make him jealous, tempting him to abandon his truest self. And yet he fell for it anyway.

“I think you’re a naughty girl who wants a little punishment,” he said as the blistering guitar riffs of ZZ Top’s “Legs” thrummed through the speakers. “But I’m not so sure you could handle my game. Up the stakes?”

“Look at you,” Irradia purred, her attention back where he wanted it—on him. “Growing some stones. What do you have in mind? Or was that just another tease?”

Irradia had been to Mila’s before, eons ago. A lousy, undisciplined angel who’d damned more souls than she’d saved, Irradia knew her days in Heaven were numbered.

But God saw potential in her, gave her a choice. Weed out the hypocrites. Thin the herd.

Either that or go straight to Hell.

Irradia took to the role immediately. Washing out sinners who’d snuck into Heaven was a lot more fun than babysitting saints.



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