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.
Time Gets Funny in Purgatory
“What else do we do around here but talk and take turns drinking from your magic bottle?” Mort asked as he handed the bottle back to Hank.
“Mostly, we wait for our next assignment. In your case, you’re waiting for your first assignment.” He lifted the bottle and took a long drink.
“How many bottles of that stuff do you go through in a day?” Mort asked when Hank handed him the bottle again.
“I’ve only ever had the one,” Hank replied. “I got it from my mentor if that’s what you’d call him. An odd little fellow he was. My bottle was a flask when he first handed it over to me. Oscar’d been a cop in London back in the day. He’d personally known Charles Dickens. Yeah, Oscar was quite the storyteller.”
“What happened to him?”
Hank looked at the door. He didn’t answer directly. “This cabin used to be a London flat just like the one Oscar lived in. We used to drink from his flask and sit at this fine table covered with a white table clothe. I sat right here. Then one day, shortly after my first or second assignment, Gabe came by and told Oscar that Sam needed to see him. They walked right out that door.”
Hank was pointing at the rustic door to his cabin. “Of course, it wasn’t that door, it was the door to Oscar’s flat, and outside was a busy London street. That was the only time I’d ever seen Oscar go out the door. I never saw him again. I guess he moved on.”
Mort got up and walked over to the door. He examined the handle but hesitated to open it.
“Go ahead,” Hank said. “Take a look.”
Slowly, as if expecting some catastrophe to occur, Mort opened the door. Hank had been right. All Mort saw was a beautiful expanse of prairie. Just as slowly, he closed the door. The idea of walking through it never crossed his mind.
Mort looked Hank in the eye. “So just where did Oscar move on to?”
Hank cocked his head to one side. “I’ll give you one guess.”
Mort didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath until it escaped him in a big sigh. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. How long have you been here?”
“I’ve been here a good long time,” Hank replied. “But I only remember the assignments. The rest of the time I’ve been in a sort of prayer limbo, not quite asleep, more like in a prayer trance, working off my time.”
A new thought suddenly grabbed hold of Mort, and he felt ashamed he hadn’t thought of it sooner.
“What about my wife, Lori, and Shannon, my daughter? Are they here somewhere?”
Hank gave Mort a pitying look. “Your daughter would have moved right on through. As for your wife, she moved on some time ago. I don’t know exactly how long ago. Time gets funny here.”
So, When Can I See Them
“So, there’s no way I can see them?” A disappointed Mort asked.
“It doesn’t work like that here,” Hank replied. “Even if they were here they’d be in their own prayer limbo working off their time. Most of the souls that come here aren’t like us. They come in, do their time and if they’re lucky someone back down there is praying for them, so their time is shortened, and then they move on. Not us, though. We work for Sam. Depending on how busy he keeps us, it can take us a good bit longer to move on than most. Don’t get impatient, though. Once you move on you’ve got all eternity to be with them.”
“Somehow, that don’t make me feel any better right now,” Mort pointed out. “So, are we waiting on something? Why aren’t we in that prayer limbo thing you talked about?”
“Sam probably has your first mission in mind,” Hank explained. “I’ll be going along to make sure everything goes right. If you do okay, the next time you’ll be on your own.”
“When will we find out?”
As if in answer to Mort’s question there came a knock on Hank’s front door.
“That’ll be your answer,” Hank told Mort. Then he turned toward the door and hollered, “Come on in.”
The door swung in and a tall, remarkably thin man in a white Panama suit, complete with hat, came in the door. His appearance was in high contrast to the cabin’s interior.
“How are you, Gabe?” Hank asked as he held his bottle out to the newcomer.
Gabe shook his head to decline the bottle. He pointed at Mort. “Is he ready to go to work?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Because the boss told me to ask you, Hank, that’s why.”
Hank turned to Mort. “Mort, meet Gabriel. He’s our bosses messenger. Gabe, this is Mort.”
Mort was looking wide-eyed at the newcomer. “Gabriel, like the Angel Gabriel, you’re the Angel Gabriel?”
Hank rolled his eyes and laughed.
Gabe heaved a deep sigh. “I’ve heard that joke at least a million times. It wasn’t funny the first time.” He gave Hank an angry look.
Mort stood up so abruptly that his chair fell over. “Look, Jack, I wasn’t making a joke. If you’re not the Angel Gabriel, who the…who are you?”
“You really thought I was The Gabriel.”
“You walked in here in your white suit with your superior attitude like you were somebody important, so, yeah, I thought you might be The Gabriel.”
“Then I guess I’m flattered. As to the mission, Mort, are you ready?”
Mort looked at Hank, who gave a slight nod, and then said to Gabe, “Let’s have it.”
Mort’s First Collection
Mort looked at Hank across the table of the booth they were seated in at the local diner. “Are you sure he’ll come to the bar tonight?”
“If Gabe says it’ll be tonight, you can take that to the bank.”
“Explain to me one more time how this works.”
Hank took a sip of his coffee. “Your target tonight has been abusing his wife for years; physically, sexually, emotionally. Tonight, he is going to go too far and after he leaves she will bleed to death while he’s over there at that bar having a few beers.”
Mort ran his hand over his head. “So, tell me again why we can’t go to the house and stop this bastard.”
“I thought you understood after Gabriel explained it, but if it helps you get through the mission, I’ll tell it again.
“Just like the night I recruited you, tonight the wife’s threads all come to an end. We can’t change that. What we can do is cut her abusive husband’s threads. Sam has decided he doesn’t deserve a chance to repent, so tonight we take a sharp knife to his life’s thread.”
Mort fiddled with the spoon in his coffee cup. He had yet to take even one sip.
“We can’t stop the wife’s thread from ending tonight, but we can cut the husband’s short even though it wouldn’t otherwise have ended tonight. And I’m the one who must cut it by convincing him to step outside the bar and fight me. How is it that we’re allowed to do that, but we can’t extend the wife’s threads?”
“Those are questions whose answers are provided at a much higher pay grade than ours,” Hank said. “All I know is that Samael is the Angel of Death and he has the power to decide to cut someone’s life short if he thinks it needs doing. That’s all we really need to know.”
Mort took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then let it out slowly. “Do I have a choice about whether or not to go through with this?”
“You always have a choice,” Hank explained. “But his wife still died. Yes, she’s already dead. And he just pulled in across the street. So, what will it be? Sam says his soul is to be collected tonight for delivery to Hades.”
A vision of the wife - battered, beaten, and bleeding - flashed into Mort’s mind.
“Let’s do this,” he said, rising from his seat.
The story of the Soul Collectors continues in Part 10.
- Soul Collectors Part 10 - Mort's First Mission
Mort's first mission is to go after a drunken husband who deserves every bit of what is about to happen to him.
© 2019 DW Davis