DW, an Army vet, has published 7 novels. His day job is teaching elementary school. In his spare time, he camps with his wife of 30+ years.
Mort took a deep breath of Iraqi air. I never thought I’d see this place again, that’s for sure.
He blinked several times to clear his vision and looked around to see where he’d landed. It was a rooftop. Somehow Mort knew he was in Fallujah. Whether it was the smell, or feel of the air, Mort couldn’t say. He just knew.
The sound of gunfire caught Mort’s attention. He looked around the rooftop and spotted a pair of Marines near the edge of the building.
One of those Marines must be Nathan, my nephew.
“Hey, Marines, friendly on the roof.”
Neither of the Marines looked his way. They were concentrating on what was going on down in the city streets. One was looking through a spotting scope, the other through a rifle scope. Mort moved slowly and carefully, keeping low to avoid the occasional shot aimed at the rooftop. He could hear one of the Marines calling out targets to the other.
Mort stopped and dropped flat on the roof when the sniper fired. What the he…What kind of rifle is that?
While the rifle retort had been loud, the whistling sound Mort heard next was more ominous. Old instincts took over, and he yelled, “Incoming,” as loud as he could. The two Marines heard that and automatically flattened themselves out even more. A burst about half-way between Mort and the Marines flung shrapnel through the air.
Mort felt pieces of the round pass through him and out the other side, knowing from experience that while it felt odd, it couldn’t hurt him. He looked up as the dust cleared and saw one of the Marines writhing in pain and the other trying to administer first aid. Mort rose into a crouch and ran to them.
“Is that Nathan O’Toole?” Mort asked as he reached the Marines.
The Marine was trying in vain to stem his buddies bleeding looked up. “I’m O’Toole. Who the hell are you?”
“It’s a long story, and you wouldn’t believe it anyway,” Mort said. “Let’s check on your buddy.”
Alyssa, One of Michael's Collectors
Sensing a presence over his shoulder, Mort looked back. The lady behind him - wearing blue jeans, a white tank top, and a tan jacket - held a finger to her lips.
“They can’t see or hear me,” the woman said. “My name is Alyssa. I work for Michael.”
Mort nodded and turned back to Nathan. “I’m afraid he’s gone, Marine. Now, let’s get on with your mission.”
Nathan looked up at Mort. “I don’t know who you are, Mister, but I’m not leaving my partner.”
“I’m not asking you to,” Mort explained. “We’re going to stay right here and carry on your mission.”
“Is that right?” Nathan asked sarcastically. “Just how are we going to do that?”
“I’m a damn good shot,” Mort told him. “I never miss.”
“Everybody misses sometimes,” Nathan declared.
“Not with this rifle I don’t,” Mort said. “Spot for me.”
Mort moved into a position slightly to the left of where Nathan and his sniper had been set up. The rifle Mort suddenly had in his hands looked remarkably like the M-21 he’d used in the last Gulf War. Nathan set up his scope.
Carrying on the Marine’s Mission
“We’ve got terrorist troops coming at us from the south. They’ve been making a push to take that part of the city. Our guys are getting pushed back. We,” Nathan choked back a sob. “Rick and me were taking out anyone on their side that looked like he might be in charge.”
“Then lets you and me get to work.”
For the next twenty minutes, Mort amazed Nathan with his accuracy and range. After the third insurgent went down from what Nathan would have sworn was an impossible shot, he quit asking questions.
“I don’t know where you came from or where you learned to shoot but I ain’t never seen anything like it.”
Mort didn’t answer. He just squeezed the trigger and dropped another insurgent.
When the whistling sound of an incoming round reached his ears, Mort didn’t say anything to Nathan. He knew it was the round that would cut Nathan’s thread.
Back in Mort’s Bar
Nathan stared at Mort across the table in Mort’s bar. “What is this place?”
“It’s my bar,” Mort answered. “Sort of. It used to be a farmhouse on the prairie. Before that, it was a flat in London. I have no idea what other forms it’s taken.”
“Am I having some kind of weird coma dream?” Nathan asked. “I’ve heard about these things.”
“You’re not having a coma dream. Why would you think that?”
“I’m sitting here at a table with my dead Uncle Mort, who I haven’t seen since I was a kid, drinking a Smirnoff Ice from what looks like a Molsen bottle. The last thing I remember, I was on a rooftop in Fallujah spotting rounds for Rick. Then Rick gets hit by a 60 mike mike mortar round, and some CIA guy shows up who could shoot like a son-of-a…anyway, the guy could shoot.”
Mort took a sip of his drink and turned to the bar.
“Ahn Su, how many bottles are there in that cooler anyway?”
“Just one, odoshi, one every time I need one.” Ahn Su chuckled and went back to polishing the bar.
Uncle Mort, You're Dead
Mort turned back to Nathan. “I told you that I never miss with that rifle.”
Nathan set his bottle down and looked hard at Mort. “It was you. What the h…what’s going on here Uncle Mort? You’re dead.”
“Yes, Nate, I am. And, I’m afraid, so are you. You survived the first round to hit the rooftop and continued to fire in Rick’s place until the second round got you, too.”
“How can that be? You were there, but you’ve been dead, what, ten years?”
“About that I guess. As you’ll learn, time doesn’t feel quite the same up here.”
“Up here. Are you telling me this is Heaven?”
“Not quite. Do you remember your lessons from confirmation class? This, my sister’s son, is Purgatory.”
“No sh…, no sh…, no kidding. At least I’m not in hell.”
“No, you’re not. But you helped me send a lot of people that way who truly deserved it.”
“The terrorists, you mean.”
“Not all of them are destined for hell, Nate. Just the ones who have given over their hearts to evil. And I don’t just mean guys who’ve done bad stuff; I’m talking so evil the Angel of Death himself cuts short their lives and sends them to hell.”
What Happened to Rick
“You know, Uncle Mort. If I wake up from this coma, I hope I remember all this. It’ll make a great story to tell at Walter Reed, or wherever I wind up.”
From behind the bar, Ahn Su called out, “I don’t think he going to believe you, odoshi. Maybe you guys should just catch up on the family until Michael’s guy gets here.”
“Who is Michael, and why is he sending a guy here?” Nathan asked.
“Michael is the Angel of Mercy, among other things. He sends Collectors down to bring back the souls of those who reached the end of their thread painfully, so they can get here without feeling all the pain.”
“Is that what you are, then, a Collector?”
“I am,” Mort admitted. “But I don’t work for Michael. I work for Samael, the Angel of Death. I go down to collect the souls of those who Sam has decided don’t deserve a chance at repentance because they’ve let evil darken their souls beyond redemption. It’s my job to put an end to their miserable lives and see their souls off to hell.”
“Supposing I were to buy into your story, which I’m not saying I am, but if I did, why were you on that rooftop when Rick and me got whacked? Since I’m here, are you telling me you sent Rick’s soul to hell?”
Mort shook his head emphatically. “No, Rick is up here someplace. One of Michael’s Collectors, Alyssa, was up there on the roof with us. You couldn’t see her. Michael’s people are rarely seen on Earth. But she brought Rick’s soul up here quick. He barely felt a thing.”
“If he’s up here, can I see him?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask when Michael’s agent comes to get you.”
“Did Rick see this Alyssa?”
“Once she released his soul from his body, he would have been able to see her, yes.”
“Was she hot? Rick would have liked that. Anyway, how come I didn’t have no angelic collector come get me? Instead, I got my long-dead Uncle Mort who usually sends souls to hell.”
© 2019 DW Davis