Travis couldn’t see it, but the battle for his life was being prepared for as he was driving home. Angels and demons were gearing up, dressing for battle in the way soldiers did in ancient times.
If he could have witnessed the preparations, he would have noticed they started their armaments at the bottom and worked their way up. Lightweight sandals were put on, then greaves, made out of a metal he’d never now the name of. A belt buckled around the waist, then a breastplate, something that looked heavy, but didn’t appear heavy in their experienced hands.
Finally, a helmet went on. The helmets looked Corinthian, and again, heavy. Once on, the angels each grabbed a shield and a longsword.
One of the angels – Jeff – was on the hood of his truck like an ornament, and he was obviously the leader. Jeff was crouched low, and wind should have been whipping through his hair, but with a helmet on, whipping hair was hard to achieve, and he was not happy about it. He had amazing hair.
There were two angels on the roof of the truck, one on the driver side and one on the passenger. The one on the passenger side was supposed to be riding shotgun inside the cab, but he had eschewed that duty for the roof because, simply put, he liked it better. His goofy grin hid the nervousness he felt about the coming battle.
The last four rode in the bed of the truck, heads low, discussing tactics and potential scenarios. These were the footsoldiers, the untested, the “bullet-stoppers.”
It was dark, and Travis had just worked a sixteen-hour day. He was exhausted.
The road he was driving home on was monotonous, traveled thousands of times since he was first given a license.
Nothing exciting ever happened on the road, except that one time when a deer jumped unexpectedly in front of the car he and his family were traveling home in. He had dodged the deer expertly, earning rare praise from his wife. “Good job, Travis, that was close.”
But tonight, no deer.
The road climaxed in a one-lane bridge. The bridge was ancient, and had recently been the subject of an investigation that had ruled a new bridge should be built. Construction would start any day. But tonight, the bridge would be traversed.
Travis had the windows down and the music blaring, blissfully unaware of the passengers congregated across his truck. He was singing along unashamedly to Taylor Swift’s “22,” because it was 11 p.m. and not a soul was on the road with him.
The proverbial troll under the bridge sat just a quarter mile away…under the bridge. He spoke in hushed but firm whispers to his troops.
“Tonight’s the night,” he said. “Tonight we take him. He’ll cross the bridge momentarily, and we attack. His truck will be defended with…” he spat on the ground, “…His people. They’ll know we’re here. Prepare yourselves.”
His soldiers nodded quietly. They rarely won these battles. There was a running joke among their kind that the least-wanted demons were used for these battles, and the word expendable was tossed around a lot. But tonight, they had a leader who had fought many of these battles. While his success rate was mediocre, he’d never been killed. That had to count for something, right?
They took their positions.
“Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel was next, something Travis would always sing along with as well. He sang a lot. In fact, recently, he’d taken to recording himself singing on Snapchat and posting it for his friends to see.
It was 11 p.m., but some of his friends might be bored, so why not?
He pulled his phone out of the cup holder it had set in most of the drive home, and he opened the Snapchat application. His iPhone was big, but then again so were his hands, so tapping the screen at the top to switch the cameras usually wasn’t a big deal. Tonight though, the long day caught up with him, and he dropped his phone in the floorboard of his truck.
He murmured a profanity and bent down to grab it.
The loud clank of his tires striking one of the steel plates on the bridge was his only indicator that this whole driving thing might be something he needed to pay attention to.
“NOW!” cried the demon and angel leaders simultaneously.
The battle began.
Jeff launched himself off the hood of the truck, not yet seeing the enemy, but knowing they would appear. In the moments after the battle, Travis would assume his quick reflexes had taken over, and he’d applied just the right amount of braking power.
As Jeff was flying through the air – a feat greatly helped by the fact that he had wings – he spotted the first demon clambering over the bridge. Unfortunately for the demon, he was paying too much attention to clambering, and as he looked up, the first – and last – thing to go through his head was, “Wow, I’d like to look through that armory.”
That was the only easy kill of the evening. The rest of the battle went back and forth, and the demon leader made short work of two of the angels who were so busily preparing in the bed of the truck.
Then Colin, the grinning roof-rider, met up with the demon leader as Jeff was finishing off five or six of the expendable guys whose only legacy would be to perpetuate the rumor currently circulating that it was absolutely not better to rule in Hell than it was to serve in Heaven.
Colin and the demon leader’s swords clashed. Sparks flew. Later, Travis would think that his truck had kissed the steel beams of the bridge ever so slightly and had thrown a shower of sparks. But when he got home, his truck would be untouched.
What Colin lacked in swordplay, he more than made up for in confidence. Confidence tended to come easy when you spent your off days in the presence of Him. He never took a defensive stance, constantly staying on the offensive, persistently moving toward the demon leader, pushing him back.
The rest of the battle had stopped. Angels and demons gathered and watched the swordfight as it continued. This temporary truce was interrupted only once by one of the more subversive demons trying to sneak around Jeff and cut his throat.
It didn’t work.
As Colin backed the demon leader to the end of the bridge, things began to look bleak for the demons. But the demon leader had not survived thus far without gaining an intimate knowledge of angel tactics.
Angels didn’t get tired, per se, but they did get sloppy. In his constant and confident offensive, Colin got sloppy.
And a few moments later, he paid for it with his life.
An audible gasp rippled through the crowd of onlookers equipped with the eyes to see the killing. Travis would later mistake this for a gust of wind bringing a thunderstorm.
He was wrong.
The demon leader roared, and his comrades roared with him. Travis would attribute this to the thunder on the horizon.
He was wrong.
The demon leader looked at Jeff, pointed at Travis, and said softly, “He is mine tonight. I’ve won.”
Jeff hadn’t yet taken his eyes off Colin’s lifeless form, but after the demon leader spoke, he raised them slowly, in a manner calculated over many eons to bring fear to anyone on the receiving end. The gaze alone had been known to kill, and was, in fact, responsible for several deaths of humans in biblical times when angels had been allowed to comingle visibly with mortals.
The demon leader didn’t die, but immediately recognized that he soon would if he continued his present line of thinking. He murmured something under his breath, something that sounded an awful lot like “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and promptly disappeared.
Alerted by the loud clank, Travis jerked his head up just in time to see the oncoming car at the other end of the bridge. He braked, remarking silently on his amazing reflexes, then felt a bump and saw sparks at the front of his truck.
“Crap. It’s new,” he said.
He backed his truck up and allowed the other car to pass.
By the time he fished his phone out of the floorboard, Sister Hazel had been replaced by Family Force Five, and the feeling of singing self-promotion on Snapchat had passed.
Another loud clank signaled that he had crossed the bridge, and to those with the eyes blessed – or cursed – to see, he appeared to drive right through the ghostly figure of a man crouched low, cradling the limp body of someone else.
They weren’t visible when the truck drove away.
With Sister Hazel in his head, and the recent lesson of paying attention to the road flying ungratefully right over his head, Travis grabbed his phone and called up Twitter.
At least he was awake now.