Tuesday, April 7, 2009

WIP of Oops

[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.


"I don't understand...why won't you help us?"

Her eyes were pleading but I could see the beginnings of anger in her body and face. The man stood abruptly and walked to the window, staring blankly out into the rain.

"You are the best at this, isn't that right?" she continued, "That's what we were told. You found the Tompkins girl after everyone else had given up, right? And the Miller twins?" She was trying to remain civil but frustration and anger compounded by the hell her life had plunged into over the last four days were cracking her shell. She was getting close to coming apart.

"Look, Mrs. Phillips," I said, "I've just been very lucky a few times with these cases." That was a lie, but I wasn't exactly going for straight honesty here, not if was going to get out of this one. "The police have their best people on this, they've got the whole city turned out looking for your little girl. I know some of the guys in Missing Persons, I've worked with them before, and I can assure you they will do everything they can to find her. And if you just give them..."

"The police are useless," the husband snarled suddenly from the window. I started to continue but the wife cut me off, "No! I don't understand! We need more than the police, and that's what you do! You find people!"

"Yes, that's true ma'am - I do find people, but it's usually guys who are running out on their wives or insurance scammers, that kind of thing." She started to protest and I went on, "Yes, I have found some children who have been abducted, and yes they've been exceptional cases in some instances." But I could see I wasn't getting through to her.

I sighed. "Okay, you want to know the truth? The truth is, I am good at finding people. Very good. Sometimes I find kids. But the fact is that seven out of ten times when I find them they're dead." She flinched as if I'd taken a swing at her. "It's just the ugly reality." I looked down at the single picture she'd placed on the coffee table in front of me, the little sun hat, the brown curls poking out, the big eyes squinting in the sun, and I remembered all the other ones - the ones whose lives I'd slipped into, whose faces I'd come to know as if they were my own kids. The ones who I found and brought back to their families - and the ones I couldn't find, who had disappeared into a world that swallowed them and left only snapshots and broken hearts behind.

"You have no idea," I said painfully, "how hard it is to do this. To get to know these kids, to sit on their beds and look at their toys. To come to think of them almost as your own. To love them." I could see she was starting to get it. "And to lose them."

"I just can't put myself through that again."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Blank sheets of paper

“But I’m not ready”, Aedan looked nervously at the sheets of blank paper spread out before him on the table.

“Doesn’t matter at this point my friend. You either start writing or the future stops happening.” The old man looming over Aedan with his long white, beard and colorful coat somehow managed to look frail and doddering yet nonetheless imposing.

“But, but, I never wanted this. I mean, I did, but not…not like this. I mean, how can I write under this kind of pressure?” Aedan’s eyes darted back and forth across the pages. He clutched the quill in his right hand more like a knife than the delicate writing tool it was. With a start he realized that on top of everything he’d never used a quill in his life!

“Well if you hadn’t put it off so long you wouldn’t be under so much pressure now would you?” The old man stroked his beard and leaned over the table in clearly an “I told you so” manner.

The young man fidgeted in his seat. He had always wanted to be one of the legendary Weavers. They were the secreted society of scribe/wizards that defined the future with their writings. These timeless men and women wove reality throughout the ages through their stories, always staying behind the scenes. Aedan had been given the chance to join their ranks; he had given up his job, his house and his two cars, and everything else that tied him to life in the early 21st century. But now as he sat, pen in hand, ready to define the future…his mind was blank. He had writer’s block in the worst possible way and at the worst possible time.

“Look, maybe if I could just have a little privacy.” As the elder Weaver left the room Aedan’s trembling pen touched the paper.

Corn field

“Lozenge-shaped I’d say.”

“Oh it most certainly is not! Cigar-shaped.”

“Cigar-shaped? I don’t know what the hell kind of cigars you smoke but that’s not cigar shaped.”

“Well it sure isn’t lozenge-shaped. What the hell does that mean anyhow. Lozenge-shape?”

“You know, I don’t care what shape it is, I’d like to know what the hell it’s doing over my corn field.”

“Ever notice that these things never show up in New York City or Paris or anything like that. They’re always over somebody’s cornfield in the middle of nowhere. Well, except in them movies like, uh, what was that movie with those guys in it and aliens come blow hell out of things. Then the president, not the real president but the guy in the movie, gets in a jet and…”

“Will you shut up already? Jeeze. Come on; let’s get a closer look.”

“Huh, closer look? Are you sure that’s such a good idea. I mean, it just sounds like something they say in a movie just before the aliens disintegrate them with some sort of death ray. Like in that movie with those space ships that land, well, in some body’s corn field in New York and…sorry.”

“Man, that sucker looks even bigger up close. Well, you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, and cigar-shaped.”


“Hey look, a door’s opening. Something’s coming out just like in that movie with that spaceship and the big robot and the alien and the guy says Klaatu barada nikto.”

“(sigh) You can’t remember the name of any movie ever made but you remember Klaatu barada nikto?”

“Hey, is that a weapon?”