Hercule watched. That’s all he did much of these days.The cloud was growing quite uncomfortable under his tucked feet, a situation he would have never considered before his arrival at heaven’s gates, but he did not move all the same. Below him played out a game that was very much attuned to his interests. Snowstorm Survivor was in its final rounds. Hell would break loose before he missed that.
While slight regret for his actions on earth occasionally bothered him, Hercule felt a sort of comfort at the finality of his choice. It had been three years since he had arrived here. His parents, still shaken, had managed to move on alright enough. Mom worked at a children’s shelter, glad to abandon her role as the traditional housewife. Father had thrown out every single gun in his cabinet, burned his rifle club membership, and had taken up a sort of modern animal husbandry operation. Where Hercule's collection of animals once stood was a solid maze of pens, housing all manners of sheeps and pigs that extended into the wilderness past their home. No neighbor had it in them to complain.
A team in black shirts won the games this year, all containing girls of different shapes and makes. Hercule watched the group swarm the stage...only to divert around it and hop into virtual getaway cars, which narrowly dodged awaiting security guards and spilled into the streets. Their tires screeched even the sanctity of the skies, and if he focused, eyes closed in concentration, he could hear the sound of their laughter. The principal, left on stage with the ridiculously oversized trophy, buried her face in her hands. The moment was lost on her.
Not every team who participated in Snowstorm Survivor did it in the spirit of Vanessa, who had risen to the position of practical living legend; albeit, a strange one. He wasn’t a blind optimist. The reason for his stay in Heaven was proof enough of that. But she had enough of an impact, and really, that’s where they had to start. A school tradition of avoiding the awards ceremony, the willing participation of a few kids who would otherwise be retained in the depths of the weight room or the shady corners of the classroom, weren’t these all seeds of something that could become something more? Hercule scanned the crowd for her. They had begun to thin out in search of another high, now that they had experienced the true crown jewel of the games. But she remained in her lawn chair, head ever cocked to the right like a wise squirrel in the park. Though the two were worlds apart, Hercule almost felt as if the two were sitting next to one another. The leather of the seat would have rubbed uncomfortably against his far-too-long shorts, the ones that mom used to make him wear and didn’t seem too bad now, at least not how they had been back then. The heat was near oppressive. But next to her, it didn’t seem too bad. Nothing short of death seemed unconquerable. And even without exchanging a word, Hercule was certain Vanessa knew he was there.
His thoughts paused as she left her seat, one of the last ones there but for the members of the Cigarette Club, original and newly initiated alike. Regulations said that he wasn’t allowed to send her a message unless under special circumstance, but Hercule had discovered that he had quite the love for rule breaking as of late. He opened his hand. A small ant emerged. With a gentle breath, Hercule let the small creature out of his grip, and it slowly floated to land, as if suspended by string. Time slowed on the surface, Vanessa’s every step becoming a half, a quarter, a sixteenth. It landed on her overturned palm. In a sudden snap, time restored, and suddenly, she was staring at her new friend. The wind blew through her orange hair. She smiled.
In a world where girls crave grand shows of affection in the forms of boxed chocolates and guitar solos, Vanessa was quite content with a single ant.