“Let’s call it. Time of death, twenty-two, forty-three p.m.” The doctor scribbled information on the death certificate and left the room.
Jude sprang up into a sitting position. “Dead? Who me? I’ve never felt better.” He swung his body around to sit on the edge of the operating table, but his legs didn’t follow. He turned to the left, staring into his own face. “Holy Bejeezus, I am dead!”
Jude slid off the table onto the floor. He didn’t feel the pull of gravity beneath his feet. “What happened to my feet?”
“This has to be a dream. If I’m dead, why am I still down here? Can’t I go to heaven or –” He paused and reflected on his life for a moment. “Never mind, I’ll just stay here.”
Suddenly, a baritone voice echoed through the room. “I’m sorry. Things have been a bit hectic the last few days.”
Jude felt warmth surround him as if sunrays penetrated his non- existent body. And, in the next instant, he was standing in an empty room with milky white walls. Extending his arms, he glanced down at his feet. He looked like someone had traced his body and sprinkled glitter around it. “Cool, I look like a kindergarten art project.”
A bronze face emerged through one of the milky walls. “Sorry, for the delay.” Slowly, the rest of the visage came forth with large ivory wings shimmering, and a silver halo hovering above its head. Jude was transfixed on two translucent blue eyes.
“An angel,” Jude said.
“I’m Apollyon.” He pulled a scroll out from under his right wing. “I see you are Jude, twenty-four, handsome, and quite popular with the ladies.” He continued reading, “You were killed…” He let out a gasp, covering his mouth.
“What? What’s wrong?” Jude drifted over to look at the scroll.
Apollyon quickly wound it back up. “You mustn’t see.”
“If it’s about me, I have a right to know. I don’t even know how I died.”
Apollyon scratched under his halo. “Hold on a moment.” He dug under his left wing and brought out a small, thick book. He thumbed through a few pages. “I can tell you how you died, but you are never allowed to see the scroll. It's a rule.”
“Okay, so what happened?”
“You died suddenly, that’s why you don’t remember. You were shot.”
“Who’d want to shoot me?”
“You gave your life to save a little boy during a bank robbery.”
“I died a hero? That should get me into heaven.”
“Jude, you don’t understand. All those silly ideas you humans believe are wrong. Heaven and hell are not what you imagine.”
“Shew! So, there’s no chance of me burning for eternity?”
Apollyon laughed. “No, never. You are an entity, a force. I must give you a task, and when it’s completed, you will become one of my special angels.”
“Sort of like a guardian angel. Everyone on Earth is assigned one.”
“And where was mine a few hours ago?”
“Angels have rules to follow, Jude, and one of those rules is to step back and allow one life to be given in place of another. It’s hard at first to watch your assignment perish, but in your case, it was you or the boy, and you valiantly stepped in.”
“So, why all the dramatic gasping?”
“You see, Jude, everyone has a destiny, every event in life happens for a reason. Although an unselfish act on your part, you did interfere with fate.”
“Are you trying to tell me that cute little boy with those big, innocent brown eyes was meant to die? Why?”
“Evil dwells within him, but it's lying dormant— for now. Your task will be to return to earth and destroy the vessel, so the soul can be set free before it is corrupted.”
“You expect me to murder a child? No way, I’d rather—”
“Be careful with your words, we take them quite literally here.”
Apollyon opened his scroll. “Think of it this way, you’re only releasing a soul, discarding the vessel. Once released, it will dwell in the heavens safely for eternity.”
“Well, when you explain like that...”
“First there are some rules. You have exactly forty-eight hours from the time you intervened to complete the task. Also, you must be careful. Do not dispose of the body in such a way that would allow another human to trade their life again.”
“What happens if I mess this up?”
“Your soul will be trapped in a purgatory-like state, neither here nor there.”
“I can't believe...are you sure I'm not dreaming?”
“Quite sure. Are you ready? It's already been six hours since you've saved him.”
“All right, let's do this.”
Jude ascended through Ben’s bedroom floor. The boy slept with a stuffed dinosaur tucked under his arm. He wore SpongeBob pajamas. The bedroom ceiling was plastered with plastic glowing stars and planets. Ben yawned and rolled over on his back. Jude stared at him. He remembered the little rusty-haired, freckled face boy from the bank. How could evil be hiding behind that innocent face?
A soft voice wafted down the hall.” Ben, breakfast is ready.”
Jude looked around the room. Toys were scattered all over the floor, dresser drawers hung open, and the closet was oozing clutter. Ben rummaged through the drawers until he found a pair of jeans and a tee shirt to wear and then scurried down the hall.
“It's about time you got up, sleepy head.” A lovely lady with auburn hair hovered over Ben, a plate of pancakes in her hand. She gently kissed him on top of his head as she set the plate on the table.
“Guess where I am taking you today?”
“Where?” Ben asked with a mouthful of pancakes.
“The zoo. We'll spend all day there if you'd like.”
Jude grinned. Watching Ben’s mother, he remembered how great it was to be a kid.
“I'll clean up in here while you go grab a jacket. Hurry up, now.”
She softly swatted his bottom.
Ben jogged down the hall into the bedroom. He dug through the mess in the closet until he found a jean jacket to wear. Ben's mom was waiting by the door as he came back down the hall. She took his tiny hand in hers, leading him out to the car.
While at the zoo, Ben's mother held tight to the little boy's hand.
“Can I go over there and see the monkeys?” Ben pointed.
“No way mister, you’re staying right here beside me. We'll go together.”
They spent the entire day at the zoo and then the park. Ben's mother didn't let the little boy out of her sight. Jude’s chance to complete his assignment was impossible because Ben’s mother wouldn’t let him wander off. How was he going to pull this off when Ben’s mother wouldn’t let him out of her sight, especially after the horrible experience less than a day earlier?
They arrived home after dark and past Ben’s bedtime. Jude rested on Ben’s bed watching the green, luminous hands on the clock. It had been twenty-four hours; he had exactly twenty-four more to complete his task. After spending the day with Ben's mother, it was apparent he had to come up with a plan.
The next morning before getting out of bed, he came up with an idea. It had to be an accident of some sort, and he once knew a boy that was hit by a car while chasing a runaway ball.
So, maybe he could entice the boy to go out and play ball. Jude could roll the ball into the street at just the right time to cause an accident.
Ben got up and dressed. He slowly walked down the hall to the kitchen.
His mother caught toast as it popped up. "Oh Ben, you startled me. What kind of cereal would you like this morning?”
“Uh...Cheerios, I guess.”
Ben's mother fixed him a bowl of cereal.
Jude found a basketball in Ben’s room and rolled it down the hallway to the kitchen. It tapped Ben’s foot.
“Mom, after breakfast can I go out and play with my basketball?”
“Um...may I go out and play?”
“Yes, you may, but stay right out back where I can see you, okay?”
Jude went out in the yard and watched the street. Ben played basketball while Jude watched for a speeding car. Ben shot baskets, kicked the ball around the yard, and threw it way up into the air while Jude waited for the perfect opportunity.
Finally, he saw a green and brown station wagon racing his way. He took a deep breath. Ben threw the ball toward the basket, and Jude intercepted it forcing it toward the road. Ben chased his basketball into the street.
Ben was struck.
An old lady screamed.
Ben's mother came running to his side.
As the body lay there dying, Jude heard Ben's mother sobbing. She slumped over him, her tears mixing with the blood that ran down his face.
Jude hovered over the body. Ben's soul emerged and immediately whisked away. Jude hovered above the scene watching the mother hang on to the empty vessel until a strong suction pulled him away.
He fell into a room with walls that resembled melting wax. Instantly beads of sweat formed on his brow. The heat was unbearable.
Apollyon emerged with a smirk on his face.
“You lied t, me,” Jude said.
“Not exactly, little Ben will dwell in the heavens just as I said. One soul for them and one soul for me.
“You said the boy was evil.”
“Not exactly, I said he had evil within him. Good and evil exist in all humans, they choose their own path.”
“You said I was going to be an angel.”
“One of my fallen angels. You'll guard the souls of sinners, like yours. I had you, Jude, until you pulled that stunt of jumping in front of a bullet. That almost saved you, but you failed my final test.”
“Because you tricked me.”
“You should have read your Bible, Jude. God created a beautiful angel, Lucifer, and cast him out. I am that magnificent creature, the fallen angel. But, you were a good little tyke and studied hard in Sunday school. Humans never question, they just follow the herd, but if you had not been so naïve…been more inquisitive, you might have learned that Apollyon is Greek for the destroyer.
“You are the devil.”
“I am known by many names, but it's you humans who make fools of yourselves, conjuring up all sorts of grotesque pictures of me. You were deceived because you thought I would be red and have horns. A pitchfork, maybe?” Apollyon laughed. “What use would a pitchfork be to an angel?”
“But, it is hot down here, and you said I wouldn't burn for eternity.”
“It's only hot because we reside so close to the core of the earth. You'll get used to it, and I promise you won't be tortured. You will be a guardian of evil souls, keeping them corrupt until their time to die, and a reaper to all.”
“It's not fair, you lied… You pretended to be something you're not. I should get another chance.”
“No, it's not my fault you were deceived. Your ignorance of things other than the world around you is to blame, not I.”
“I don't understand, why Ben?”
“His time was up. You halted his fate, so it was only fitting that I send you to be his reaper. And a job well done, I might add.” Apollyon clapped slowly.
Apollyon waved his hands and a black cape with a large hood covered Jude. A fallen angel he would be for eternity.