[This was an idea I had some years ago that I decided to expand into more of a short story. Well, maybe. We'll see how ambitious I get.]
“OH SHIT!” Azrael looked around sheepishly hoping no one had heard his outburst. A few other angels looked over but were so accustomed to such expletives that no one gave it much thought. After all, many of them were charged with day-to-day monitoring of the often absurd and usually sacrilegious going-on of mankind and so the occasionally vexed expletive was nothing unusual.
Still, Azrael being the angel of death and all, was tasked with writing the names of men, or women, in his book at their birth and in turn erasing them when that man, or woman died. Not the most exciting of jobs but it beat something like Umeroz’s job of being the angel of the second hour of the night. How lame is that? Or Dagiel, angel of the fish? I mean come on!
While Azrael wrote reasonably fast with the meat sacks, um, blessed children of God, dropping like flies as some 150,000 plus per day he had little time these days for making house calls. That is to say, being on hand for any one person’s death and doing the whole ushering souls to the great reward and all that. Oh sure, he tried to make an appearance for some of the big events like floods, wars, earthquakes and the like; the things that racked up the body counts. But for the most part there just wasn’t time to show up every time some Thom, Dick and/or Harry shuffled off the mortal coil. In fact for a while he even transferred things over to the PC to make matters a little more streamlined but when the threat of Y2K came along he figured he was just tempting fate and for whatever reason Fate had made it quite clear she had it out for this particular member of the heavenly host set.
“Oh this is bad, this is really not good”, he looked around for a dry cloth to sop up the diet Coke before anyone noticed. The sticky, brown liquid ran down the page and dripped onto the floor. “Oh crap, HE/SHE is going to be seriously pissed. This is even worse than the time I misplaced the book with all the Atlantean people. Or forgot to erase those guys they made the Highlander movies about. Jeeze, those sucked, and to think I’m responsible.”
Ink and diet Coke ran down the page smearing and effectively, erasing 63, no wait, 64 names from the Book of Life. Additionally 6 names were smeared and faded nearly, but not quite, beyond recognition. What could this mean in the grand scheme of things? Were they somewhat dead? Mostly but not altogether dead? Azrael couldn’t say. But what he could say with absolute certainly, without fear of contradiction or second guessing that he was most profoundly fucked.
Azrael looked around surreptitiously. No one seemed to notice as he dried the page with the sleeve of his robe and turned the page. With 107 people and change passing on each minute and even more being born he could hardly dwell on past mistakes or risk falling behind on his task of perpetual writing and erasing. Now it should be noted that even with divine clerical skills (the bookkeeping sort not the religious sort in this case) that allowed him a level of scribing well beyond that of mortal man he could by no means stay ahead of the mortal nature of mankind. In fact he had a staff. Again, not a clerical staff in the parting of seas, smiting the heathen sort of staff but rather the secretarial pool sort of staff. By virtue of such a plan was hatched. Azrael had to atone for the error of his ways. That is to say, he needed to cover his ass.
At this point there are a couple of issues that should probably be mentioned concerning divine power and the whole angle of death thing. Not to suggest the power of the holy is not all it’s cracked up to be or anything of the sort; it’s really quite impressive in the whole Old Testament sort of way. But, it is, one might say, fickle. That is to say, there are no hard and fast rules governing it nor predefined limits to and definition of what is and is not possible nor a predefined description of just what powers are available to those tasked with the execution of His divine will. All of which is a long winded way of saying Azrael did not simply have the ability to simply gaze down upon the Earth and smite the 68 individuals in question so as to balance the books. This in turn brings up two other points.
The first of which is that first and foremost the aforementioned angel was a bookkeeper. A bean counter as it were. After untold years of recording and deleting names in The Book human life really meant little more than an ever increasing and decreasing ledger of statistics. Therefore the only logical solution to the recent discrepancy between the total of dead recorded vs. actual dead was to go forth and bump off the inconvenient 68 ledger entries - also known as humans - so as to balance the books as it were. This in turns leads us to the second issue at hand. Azrael was, as mentioned earlier, the angle of death. This was however more of an administrative position than a field job.
For thousands of year he had been tasked with the recording of births and deaths in The Book. That is, The Book of Life, not, you know, The Book as written, edited, rewritten and reedited by a collection monks and politicians over the years. Basically a desk job. Not to say he didn’t occasionally make is way down to the big blue marble but more on holiday than for purposes of smiting and ushering souls to their subsequent rewards. What this meant was that if Azrael was going to balance the books he was going to have to do it the old fashion way. He was going to have to get his hands dirty. More to the point, he was likely to get his hands bloody.
Another rather inconvenient problem was that one didn’t simply check divine power out from the weapons locker without considerable paper work or, well, the heavenly protocol version thereof. At least not if one were off on a personal mission of ass covering which he in fact was. Instead he was going to have to go planet-side and make do with such powers as were granted by default to an angel. Azrael palmed a letter opener.