Two angels with opposing objectives determine the fate of a recently deceased man.
|This piece placed third in the "Twisted Tales Contest" August 2017
“Do you think he knows what’s in store for him?”
“Do they ever?”
Plenerus and Kel stood at the back of the room watching the goings on. Each wore a finely pressed suit and fedora, though no one else around them even knew they were there. It was a busy night in the trauma center, the emergency room in central Chicago, a byproduct of a typical holiday weekend. From gunshot wounds to motorcycle accidents, doctors, nurses and all sorts of other medical staff hurried this way and that, trying to keep pace with the incoming flow. Even so, they both waited patiently aside from the organized chaos, an unnoticed shadow on the wall.
“They’re like ants,” Kel remarked, marveling at the flow. “Is it like this every time?”
Plenerus chuckled. “You’ll get used to it. I’ve been doing this…well, it seems like forever and a day. And while the scenery may change, the theme remains the same.”
Trauma physicians hovered over their mark, working frantically and barking orders. All the while the steady beep, beep, beep, of their curious machines doled along, an electronic pulse in the face of inevitability.
“It’s hard to believe with all these injuries that he’s our only sure thing here.”
“Time marches on. They’ve made marvelous advancements in their technology, enough to even bring them back from death, in a way.”
“Really?” Kel doubted.
“Hmph. You really are new to the division, aren’t you?”
“Well, I’ve gone through the training, if that’s what you’re getting at. Spent the last fifty years in sub-Saharan Africa, but it was nothing like this. That place was more primitive, for sure. More primal.” A gurney rushed past with a moaning patient which temporarily distracted Kel before he returned to their target. “Mostly diseases, infections, predator maulings, that sort of thing.”
“I see,” his counterpart said. “So this is your first time in a North American hospital, then?”
Kel nodded. “So, what do you know about him?”
“This guy? What’s there to know? Listen, you don’t want to take this job to personally and never, ever get too attached.”
“I’m just curious, that’s all.”
Plenerus sighed. “Jacob Carter, age 37. Divorced with two kids. Sells insurance.”
“And his record?”
Plenerus turned suspiciously to Kel. “You’ve got the same run-down I did. You’ve read the dossier, I’m sure.”
“Just want to make sure we’re on the same page is all.”
Awkward silence fell between the pair as the beep, beep, beep, dolled on.
Finally, Plenerus relented, opening his little notebook and reading from the pages. “This one’s kind of a mixed bag. He’s a decent enough father, spends all the time he can with his kids, but he had a mistress in Kansas City that cost him his marriage. Likes to donate to charity, but’s a little liberal with the numbers when filing his taxes. Hasn’t been to church in years. A while back, he had a falling out with his siblings and hasn’t talked to them since. Let’s see.” He thumbed through the pages. “Oh, he’s stepped on a few toes on his way up the ladder, and not in the kindest of ways. And he’s shattered more than a few dreams. Seems perfect for downstairs. Wait, you should already know all this.”
Kel chuckled this time, grinning at the floor as a pair of nurses rushed past. “I do. This is just my first full assignment and I want to make sure I get it right.”
“Uh-huh,” Plenerus doubted. “Sounds more to me like you think we might be keeping information from you.”
“It’s happened before.”
“Listen rookie, the treatise clearly explains that we’re required to share any and all information…complete transparency between operatives. That’s why we’re both here, after all.”
“Is that what happened two thousand years ago?”
“That was different, and you know it.”
“Anyways,” Kel noted, trying to return to their subject at hand, “this one seems to have some redeeming qualities – charitable family man, provider. He paid a heavy price with his divorce. Maybe downstairs isn’t the place for him.”
“He’s coding!” one of the doctors shouted and the beeping of their machines turned to a flat-lined chime. All activity ramped up and Kel leaned in, straining to see what all the new activity is all about.
Plenerus just rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, leaning back into the wall and waiting for the end. “Just a matter of time,” he commented.
“Clear!” Electricity shot into the patient and his body jerked, doctors trying to jumpstart the man’s heart. Nothing. “Recharging! Clear!” Another jolt and he shuddered again.
“What’s happening?” a confused voice suddenly observed from next to them.
“You're dying, Mr. Carter,” Plenerus whispered, leaning in as they watched the show.
“Dying? What do you mean?”
“At 8:36 tonight, your car was sideswiped and then rolled into a ditch. Emergency crews barely extracted you and brought you here,” he explained plainly.
“What? Impossible!” the man rejected.
“Clear!” the doctor called again and Jacob Carter’s body spasmed once more. Nothing. “Okay I’m calling it. Time of death, 9:42pm.”
Plenerus closed his tiny notebook and tucked it into his jacket pocket. “And that’s it,” he explained.
“It? What do you mean, 'it?'” Jacob asked.
“You are now officially dead, Mr. Carter,” he explained like an automaton.
The man didn’t respond, couldn’t respond, too deeply stunned.
Kel‘s gaze met Jacob’s and he comforted, “It’s normal to be confused at first.”
“Of course,” Plenerus agreed simply. “Now, let’s get to business.”
“Boy, you’re right to it, aren’t you?” Kel marveled.
“This is just another stop and I do have other appointment’s tonight.”
“What about my family, my kids?” Jacob stared blankly and disbelievingly ahead.
“Oh, they’ll manage on their own until their time comes. They generally do just fine after a while. Sure, there’ll be tears and sadness and regret, but it usually works out with time.” Plenerus’s statement was almost too cool, years and years of assignments making this just another in a long litany.
Jacob’s mind raced, pondering their life alone without him. Had he prepared enough? What would they do without him? Their hearts would be broken. Finally, he asked, “Who are you?”
“Angels, of course. My name is Mr. Plenerus and my associate here, for lack of a better descriptor, is Mr. Kel. We’re your assigned intermediaries for your transition.”
“Well you don’t expect to hang around this hospital as a ghost for the rest of time, do you?” Jacob just stared blankly back. “And we can’t have you returning to haunt your family. That would be a disaster! There’s the whole Amityville incident and don't even get me started on how we’re still rounding up unaccounted confederate and union soldiers a century and a half later.”
Kel jumped in, trying to sooth Jacob’s concerns. “Mr. Carter, this is a process that’s occurred for tens of thousands of years. Everyone on Earth is born and everyone dies. Surely you had to expect some sort of transition to an afterlife.”
Plenerus rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Sorry, he’s new,” he explained, then turned to Kel. “Most people don’t have a clue. All they know about life and death is what they read in books. And the people teaching them about those things are reading from the same books too.” He chuckled. “Worse, people are reading less and less now and hardly anybody ever goes to church anymore. So, there’s a lot of bad information out there.”
“So there’s a heaven?” Jacob was suddenly desperate to know.
“And a hell,” Plenerus was sure to include.
“And where do I belong?”
“You see, that’s what we need to get figured out,” Kel explained. “My colleague here would like to snatch you away; no due process. ‘Plenty of room for more,’ they’ll tell you. I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen. There are procedures, quality standards for reason.”
“You mean you guys aren’t here together?”
They looked to each other and snickered. “No, I’m happy to say,” Kel answered with an amused grin.
“But didn’t you say you’re both angels?”
“And aren’t angels supposed to help people.”
“More or less.”
“Okay, what am I missing?” Jacob wondered.
It took them both a moment. “Ah, I see your confusion,” Plenerus realized. “You see, people just don’t know anymore, though I suppose the whole bureaucracy would be too confusing, even if they did.” Jacob still wasn’t following. “Mr. Carter, there are two types of angels, you know, fallen and holy. Both heaven and hell have an intake department, ready to receive new arrivals.”
“Sheesh. You make it sound so mechanical,” Kel said. “Mr. Carter, we’re here to determine your placement.”
“Of course,” Kel continued. “You know, body by God, and that sort of thing. I’m sure you’ve seen the billboards. Anyways, life is a test. Your soul is placed inside that vessel over there, your body, and your assigned task was to live your life…to learn something from your time on Earth. You must understand, you were dropped into a hostile environment designed to shape you and help you grow. Certain challenges were placed before you, tasks to help you mature and ready you for eternity. The decisions you’ve made in life determine your placement. Surely you have to know some of that.”
Jacob suddenly felt cold and with shameful eyes, nodded. He recalled his regrets, every mistake, the time lost on bad decisions, the lies he told, and the times he cheated. He relived the choices he wish he could have made over, and the hard lessons he’d learned along the way.
“You’re remembering the evil you’ve done,” Plenerus knew, reading the remorse clearly on the man’s face. “All humans have a yearning for mischief inside them,” he explained. “Since the garden, the hearts of men have carried that burden.”
Kel shot Plenerus a scolding glance before adding, “But what determines your placement are the scales of time. Have you led a good life?”
“I…I don’t know,” Jacob answered, then added, “Maybe not,” and Plenerus smiled broadly.
“This is a crossroads for you, Mr. Carter,” Kel acknowledged. “Of course, quite a few are fairly straightforward. Some live nobly and their place in heaven is reserved. Others are absolutely consumed by their evil nature and spend eternity burning in darkness, no matter how redeeming a few of their acts may have been. Again, your fate is matched by your deeds on Earth.”
“So where do I belong.”
“Well, that’s what we’re here to determine.” Mr. Kel produced his own notebook and began flipping through the pages, finally turning it to Jacob. “You have quite a list of infractions here, I’m sorry to say.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, with the exception of murder,” Plenerus said, “you’ve broken pretty much every commandment, at least 6 of the deadly sins and whatnot. Sure most of them are minor infractions but these types of things taken alone pretty much get you a one way ticket to the pit.”
“The pit? You mean hell?” Jacob suddenly became frantic. “There must be something I can do.”
“You’ve had an entire lifetime, Mr. Carter.”
“Please!” he begged. “I tried! It was so hard…life was so hard!” The man sank to his knees and began to sob. “I’m…sorry. I’m so, so sorry! Please forgive me!” He began to weep uncontrollably.
Plenerus and Kel looked to each other in unison. “Well, Mr. Plenerus, I suppose he’s all yours, then.”
“Looks that way. Anyways, I’ve got a schedule to keep. Are you ready, Mr. Carter?” he asked simply.
He didn’t answer, continuing to weep.
“Huh, I guess there really wasn’t much too it. Does it generally go this fast?” Kel wondered.
“Pretty much. Honestly, most people end up begging for forgiveness in the end.”
"I guess my job will be pretty easy then, from here on out." Kel closed his notebook and tucked it away. “Well, good luck to you, Mr. Carter. Mr. Plenerus, you certainly live up to your reputation - definitely by the book. And Mr. Carter, if you’re ever looking for a warm place to get away from eternity, we have just the spot.” With that, he turned and strolled away, disappearing as if blown away on a gentle breeze.
“Shall we?” Plenerus motion Jacob to his side and with a heavy sigh the man obliged.
“What did he mean?” Jacob asked, wiping the tears away.
His guide only smirked with a raised eyebrow. “Nothing for you to worry about now.”
“So, this is it?”
“Yes it is,” his escort acknowledge.
A subtle glow suddenly began in his fingertips and toes, not a scalding or burning sensation as he expected, but soothing, almost like the warm waves of a gentle current easing his burdens. It steadily crept along his arms before suddenly surging into his chest. All at once, he was filled with such joy he could hardly imagine, and eternity was revealed to him, glistening like stardust in his eyes. Bathed in a love he never expected and didn’t feel he earned, the man turned back to Plenerus. “I don’t understand.”
"I'm sorry?” There was a pause. “Oh!” he realized. “You thought you were going to the other place.”
The wonders of heaven were overwhelming and he began to sob, not with tears of sadness but joy. “I don’t…I don’t deserve this.”
“And that’s exactly why you’re here, Mr. Carter – humility and remorse. A truly remorseful man will always have a place in heaven and you were saved by your modesty and regret. ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth,’ and whatnot. You see, your Creator loves you more than you can imagine, enough to forgive what you’ve done, when you’re sincere and ready to ask for it. Unfortunately, hell is full of selfish, unrepentant devils.”
“My kids,” Jacob suddenly remembered again.
“You see? A truly evil man, only thinks of himself.” Plenerus smiled and pushed the gates wide. “You’ll be happy to know their plan shows them to live a full and happy life. You’ve done well in your time with them, and they’ll be along eventually. After that, you’ll have all the time in eternity. Welcome home.”