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There were three of them crowded into the front seat of a Volvo station wagon that had 150,000 miles on the odometer. They were angels, and they liked to drive with the windows down and the music loud.

They seldom had disagreements about the music; all of them shared a taste for early Elvis Costello, the Pogues, and Buddy Guy, among others. They covered a lot of miles in that Volvo and had a huge collection of tapes.

They’d been chosen for their stoic, no-nonsense demeanors. They weren’t happy to be dead, and they’d all been taken quickly, violently, and much too young. None of them were much for conversation, but they found things to say to each other as they drove to and from assignments.

It never failed to irritate them that people seemed to think that angels were supposed to be comely. In truth, most angels of their acquaintance were unattractive and ungainly, and there was generally something downright terrifying about the very best and most effective ones. They certainly didn’t look anything like what the gift shop loonies and inspirational quacks liked to imagine.

Angels—the real ones—were expected only to be efficient and to deliver their message loud and clear. That message tended to be relatively simple and blunt.

They would get their human assignments trussed and blindfolded in the backseat of the Volvo and then drive them into dark places, where they would release them into a patch of intense and paralyzing light.

They were epiphanic messengers, the sternest of the angels, and were assigned the hard luck cases and squanderers. Their advice, such as it was, was pretty much boilerplate by this time:

Straighten up and fly right.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

Get your shit together.

Pull your head out of your ass.

And: Live, you lucky bastards.

Brad Zellar is a Minneapolis writer. He works as a Senior Editor at The Rake magazine, where he writes the “Yo Invanhoe” blog.

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