Day 14: Two weeks!

After lunch, we set back to it. The work was interesting, and required enough attention to detail and knowing the moment when to cut, that the rest of the day went by quickly. About an hour after I would have normally left my desk at the insurance company, Dee told me we’d resume work tomorrow, and I could go home now. I knew that people were prone to die at any time, and not just within the confines of my semi-nine to five shift, and so I knew Dee was picking up a lot of the slack of the night time hours while I took my time in adjusting to what was going to be my new work schedule for a very long time. Dee would just have to let me make it up to him when I was as seasoned in the art of expiration as he was.

I stood at the corner bus stop and waited for the bus, but it was only once I’d paid my fare and was moving away from the stop, that I realized I could have used my new form of flying transportation to get home. Oh well. I’d already paid the fare, and I’m sure I’d have plenty of time to utilize this newfound power if my car failed to turn over again tomorrow morning.

I was seated in the very back of the bus, and it was stuffed with office workers, students, and women and men on their way to second shift or from the day jobs they’d been momentarily liberated from. I was watching them look out the windows, lose themselves in their smart phone screens and laptops, or silently flick through paperback books designed to travel well on public transport. It was the most relaxing part of the day actually. I had no hurry to be home, and riding the bus made me feel more connected to the humanity I was sure I was a part of (but was no longer) just earlier this week.

As the reaper in training, would I really be coming for all of them eventually? If I had thought it was hard meeting people and making friends before, I suppose the efforts were going to be even more strained with the thought of how and when I was going to cut each of their chords lingering in the back of my mind as we exchanged pleasantries. Watching them now, I could feel all of their life force energies steadily dripping from them, and it was so blatantly visible now to me that I was surprised I didn’t see a puddle under each of them from the steady loss of life that they were spending just by existing. Furthermore, it was now obvious to me in a way that wasn’t before that some of them had small tears in their pipes and the life force they held was coming out in more than a slow drip.

A man came down the aisle, bumping me slightly as he sat down beside me and startling me out of my reverie of thoughts. I moved slightly down the seat to give him more room, and briefly made eye contact with him. As I did, I felt that strong internal shove again, and found that I was face to face with Azazal again.

“We haven’t been properly introduced,” he said, pushing me again with his too dark eyes, and extending his hand toward me, although it was gloved this time.

I tentatively touched his fingers as I met the hand as far from my body as I could for the handshake. And why was I shaking his hand? Well, even if he was a demon, I could still be polite.

“I’m sure Dee has filled your head with some kind of story concerning today’s events and our coincidental meet-up we had at the basketball game,” Azazal said, and his voice came out in thick drops of syllables, like thick honey that was turning to lumps of sugar from being left stationary for too long. It was impossible to detect what tone he was attempting; sarcastic or menacing, who knew?

“He told me that you’re a demon and you were there to eat that boy’s life so that he was left with no alternative than to forever be resigned to nothingness and an in-between of life and death,” I said, astonished at my eloquence and irritated that I was beginning to take on Dee’s superfluous way of speech.

“Well, that’s simplifying the issue a bit much, I think,” Azazel said. “Did you ever consider what kind of life these humans were living before we came upon them? There’s 14 billion people on the planet currently. Does every single one of them deserve to hit the circuit another couple of times? What about those who have cycled hundreds of times? What is yet another cycle going to give them except for another chance to become a rapist, a murderer, a thief, and the like? By taking these ‘bad seeds’ out of the picture, aren’t I doing everyone a big favor?”

As most bad guys do, Azazal had a really good point there.

Advertisements

Day 13: Brain Exhaustion

Let’s talk demons…and not just the personal kind. Although, that kind of demon is much worse in the excision sometimes.No. Let’s talk real-life, 100 percent factual, malicious and malevolent presences that slide into the cracks of all things deemed “normal” and routine. The goal of a demon, it’s one true calling, is to snatch what’s good and thriving and bring it down to the cancerous level; to consume it’s quality until its a husk to discard at the base level. 

And so there must be opposition to this of course. Humanity is a frail thing. True, it is full of resilience, but ultimately if often falls prey to the whims of forces mightier than it. And those forces are so very many. Therefore, opposition to the demonic forces, an ally to humanity, most come in the form of…angelic means (as far as using terms of little meaning go anyway). Angels, known also as those simply working towards the sign of right and for the unselfish motives to further existence and propagate the good, are the ones left to fight against the dark forces. Or rather darkerER forces. No one said Angels had to be of a cloth of pure white, after all.

Because, what does it mean to be angelic? Demons are easy to recognize. We see in their eyes that look that freezes us inside, and if not that, we can tell from their ill humors and behaviors that bear no hope of concealment. Yet, how to recognize an angel? Why is it that good never seems to advertise? We have to find our saviors through a wade through a seemingly homogeneous mixture of lessons and blessings. It’s tedious. Yet, oh, to find such a soul that works tirelessly to find meaning in the ash, and bring out the gems that lay hidden there. To have such a being on your side makes you wonder how you ever did acknowledge, and give precious effort, to the shades of grey between the light and the dark. 

I didn’t think I could feel more morose after my first day on the job with Dee, but now it was day two and I felt such a languid melancholy in my bones that dragging myself alongside him to find some distraction in the way of lunchtime offerings seemed the most oppressive task of all. Dee probably thought himself gracious in allowing me to choose our eatery, but it felt to me just another deferred decision. I didn’t even feel that my judgement was worthy of this small matter in the state my brain wallowed in currently. It was actually even more pathetic than if I had been just a normal guy who had no appetite. I was a demi-god who could travel anywhere in the known world to find any kind of food known to man to quench my grief, and I didn’t even know which direction to turn first.

With such great power, I decided that since fast food was going to give me a solid weight of guilt in addition to digestion woes, we could go one step up with the relative comfort food of the family friendly chain restaurant.

We were seated in the back of the restaurant, under a street sign that said “If you parked here, you’re toad!” with a picture of a cartoonish witch directly below the text. There was also a bicycle tire on the wall, and a movie poster from the Wizard of Oz. I could tell they were trying for a loose theme here in the corner near the restrooms.

Our hostess left us with menus, and then disappeared. We had missed the middday crowd, and so the restaurant was in the state of calm before the storm that was the dinner crowd. Dee and I looked across the table in our separate booth seating, and I shook my head with disbelief that I was dining with Death in such ironic scenery.

Dee smiled, in the usual light mood he carried, and rolled his eyes at the broomstick they’d suspended overhead our corner seat.

“Well, at least it should be easier for you to believe me when I reiterate that we aren’t the bad guys in this,” he said.

“Yeah. I would have never imagined that the grim reaper was the knight in shining armor to the dying, but that long-legged guy is definitely got a much creepier thing going on that you do…no offense,” I added as our server approached, and we ordered both drinks and our meals in one go of things.

“Undoubtedly more creepy,” Dee said when the server had left. “It’s because he’s a fallen angel, and has had the whole of time to perfect his sinister look.”

A fallen angel, eh? That was a new one, I thought.

“No need to get skeptical now, Jorge,” Dee said. “If there are demons like Azazal to contend with, it’s only logical to have angels there for him to go up against in his efforts to offer sweeping damnation to the world at large.”

“And so we are angels?”

“Sure,” Dee said, thanking the middle aged waiter who brought our drinks along. “That’s a good term for what we do. We take the souls of the dying into ourselves, offering them a safe location to be stored until they move to another cycle or place where salvation might be possible on the next ending, and then we release them to where they would best thrive or at least learn something this go around.”

Put this way, it did seem that we were providing a valuable service to the ones we were cutting chords on. I’m sure they didn’t see it as all too charitable an endeavor since they had to lose their life to move on to the next realm, but I was beginning to see things in a relative way of thinking.

“So, I’m guessing this Azazal dude is not so sincere in his purposes for trying to wrestle the necklaces from us?”

“You guess correctly,” Dee said. “If we are offering a sort of absolution to find meaning, satisfaction, and enlightenment with the human life after however many tries it takes to find these things, then Azazal and his kind are working to take these opportunities away. Thus, leaving the dead no other alternative than damnation; another word for soulless non-existence.”

Our server had returned, and so we paused, not even very dramatically, as he placed a burger and heap of fries in front of me and a grilled piece of salmon and brown rice in front of Dee. Once the server had left, Dee stabbed a fork into his salmon with a twinge of an emotion I’d never seen on Dee’s face; annoyance.

“Couldn’t have picked somewhere near the coast, could you?” he asked, disdainfully bringing a portion of the filet to his lips.

I was going to snap back something at him about picking the restaurant himself if he was going to be picky, but I heard a glimpse of something just behind his lips. It was a weary sort of dissatisfaction thing that he couldn’t put into words, but it was there all the same. I thought about how Death had been doing the Death job for eternity, and how much of a bummer that was, especially with someone like tall, dark and freaky Azazal on your heels the whole time.

“So how often does a demon steal a soul out from under us? And what do they do with them anyway when they get them…besides throw their true owners into a lake of fire or whatever?” I asked, determined to make the most of my fried potato fare, as I brought one to my mouth.

“Well, no matter how organized this all may seem to a newcomer, as you currently are, there are some flaws.”

I didn’t even smile as he said this, although the urge to shout “a-ha!” at him was overwhelming.

“I don’t exactly have a way of knowing who is going to bite the dust during the day besides the vague dreams at night that I also experience and the inklings I get in the process of collection that sometimes direct me to the next destination. And so, when a demon gets a soul before I do, I can tell I’ve lost something, but I don’t get to know what it was or its potential was. It sets back the process of actualizing existence as well, as you may well guess.

“And as far as what the demons do with the souls they get…well, they do what we do. They ingest them into themselves. But whereas we digest the life and seek to find it a home beyond us, the demons sit upon the soul inside them, tear at it, take every bit of nutrient from it, and leave what’s left to a bardo of limbo that even I have no idea where it manifests.”

Why did we keep trying to have these awful soul-sucking conversations over food times, I wondered? Not even fried potatoes could taste good with news that demons were a more real and more dangerous form than any vampire or monster ever cooked up could be. I didn’t want to ask any more questions, and Dee looked so tired that I felt bad in asking him anything more than how his food tasted. We finished our late lunch in silence.

Day 12: Let’s introduce the real antagonist

Dee and I flew high above the day in progress for the world far below. We touched down just outside a high school gymnasium during what looked like the middle of a basketball game between two different school teams. As we stepped inside, there were clusters of parents and supporters lining the rows of the bleachers on each side of the court, and it was to this that Dee gestured we take a seat.

“Remember that ‘other guy’ I was telling you about,” Dee said, leaning forward as though intent on the player that was now dribbling the basketball down the length of the court, having wrestled its control from the opposition.

I nodded, following the player with my own eyes.

“Well, he’s here,” Dee said.

“Where?”

“I don’t see him yet, but I know what it feels like when he’s nearby,” he said.

I couldn’t see that the atmosphere felt that much different from what would normally be in the air at a high school sports rivalry. There was an excitement of being so near to so many warm and thrumming bodies, even if there was no actual interest in the game itself that was being played out before us. There was tension too to have so many bodies crowded into a confining space. There was unpredictability in situations like this, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for anyone who’d ever been in a situation where there was a large group of people. But Dee wasn’t one to exaggerate (well…much) and so I didn’t think all these normal mores of the scene were what he was referencing.

There was a flicker of movement on the opposite side of the court, towards the top of the bleachers, that drew my attention. I looked up there, and felt something like recognition as I looked upon the woman who sat high above the gymnasium scene, the game, and everything she seemed deigned to look down upon. She looked directly across and into my eyes, smiling in a small way that felt like a hard shove against my chest.

Dee followed my gaze, and his look soured.

“Yes. That’s him,” Dee said, nodding towards the woman.

“Him?” I asked perplexed as the woman crossed her legs, gently folding her navy dress around the tops of her thighs in an easy flirtatious way.

He peered closer, and then nodded. “Oh right, I forgot,” he said. “Until you know better, he tends to appear in such a way that it’s hard to ignore him, and easy to be attracted. I’m guessing you’re seeing a rather fetching lady or some sort of strychnine sweet cherub-like child’s face, right?”

“I see a woman. And she’s looking right at us.”

“If she’s looking at us, and acting like she truly sees us right now, then it’s most likely our man. Try to look past her, just over the shoulder perhaps, and then tell me what you see.”

I did as Dee instructed, looking just over her shoulder, past her now gleaming smile as she adjusted her legs again and the dress crept higher. She lightly turned her head to follow my gaze beyond her, and then when her head swiveled back my way, the appearance had changed. She was indeed a he, a man with thin and pointed features, a body like pulled taffy with limbs stretched out from him in seemingly painful proportions. There was a lean hungry look to all of him like he could eat and eat, but never get satisfied.

“Azazal,” Dee said. “That’s our demon counterpart in the work we do. He’s here to get to our charge before we can. Let’s move…now”

He said this as he was already moving, lightly pushing me from the bleachers and down to the court, pointing for us to make our way to the bench on the gymnasium’s opposite side where there was a lone player sitting. The thin rail of a man was also moving now, taking the bleachers a row at a time to reach the bottom. His eyes never left me, their tunnel hollowness pushing on me with a slight but uncomfortable pressure that I knew now was the feeling Dee had been talking about.

As we crossed the court, I managed to just slip ahead of Dee and was therefore allowed to make my way across the court before the two teams came running back in front of us. Dee was not so lucky, and was caught on the opposite side as the teams formed a running line to block his way. No one was paying us any mind in being on the court with the other players. Only the thin man could see us, and he had managed to slip through the teams as well, close behind me. Dee waved me onward, pointing to the young, player by the bench whom was now standing, readying himself to take to the court.

I jogged to his side, and fumbled around his collar to find the chord. I pulled it from beneath his basketball jersey, and then patted my pockets for the blade to cut it. But they were empty.The player, ignoring me pawing at his neckline, was now moving away from me and out of my grasp to take his place on the court as a substitution was made. Dee had managed to get through the line of players at this point and quickly rushed to my side, pressing the blade into my palm and shoving me onto the court after the player. The young man, sweating slightly in the stifle of the gym, was already shadowed closely by the man whom Dee had called Azazal.

He had in his hands a blade similar to ours, but it was a thicker slice of crescent, and it had serrated teeth. This didn’t make any sense to me. The chords around the dying’s necklines always broke away easily when the blade touched them, there wasn’t any sawing motion required to loose them.

The player dodged and bobbed, and Azazal as well as I were both struggling to catch up with him as he received possession of the ball and proceeded to take it back the length of the court to his team’s basket. As the boy paused, lifted his arm to take the shot, and flicked the ball in the direction of the basket, Azazal leapt forward and hooked a lank arm around his neck, wrenching up the necklace and beginning to saw. The chord was providing resistance, and Azazal was forced to bear down even harder. I could hear the necklace fighting his saw-teeth, and I rushed to throw my own arm around the youth, inadvertantly locking arms with the demon behind the boy’s back.

Azazal flinched hard as I touched him as though a current of electricity was in my skin. I knocked his hand out of the way from the chord with the hand that held my scythe, and then I grasped harder at his arm behind the boy’s back. Azazal spat a curse and shied away from my touch, losing grip with the boy, and falling against the court as our player moved to make the rebound shot. I pushed the scythe under the necklace again, and barely had to pull before the bright chord snapped and the silver snaked downward, under the jersey and hit the court; touching down just one moment before the boy himself hit the ground, a player’s elbow connecting with magnificent force with the boy’s temple.

For a moment, all seemed still. The players on the court stopped their running and attempts to score points. The player that had connected with the boy who now lay on the ground, reeled away towards the sidelines. The crowd was hushed into a semi-silence of murmurs. The only thing that moved was the demon Azazel, crab-crawling from where my touch had knocked him back against the ground, towards the necklace that was puddled in a broken loop on the polished hardwood floor.

I bent to get to the necklace before he could, but another hand beat me there, gently pushing mine aside. Dee scratched against the floor with his nails to get at the necklace, and closed it within his palm. Azazel was undeterred that Dee had gotten the necklace first and still crawled towards us, finding his footing and standing to walk forward.

“Cut it in half,” Dee said to me, pushing the chord into my palm.

I didn’t ask questions. We were being crowded in by the coach, a parent, and several players that had gathered around the boy on the floor, gently tapping his face and calling his name as he lay still. I put the chord between my fingers and used the blade to snap it in half. Dee removed half from my palm and rushed it to his mouth, using his other hand to push my palm up to my mouth so that I could ingest the other half.

And as we ingested this chord, Azazal made one last desperate leap at us, and was able to lay a claw-like hand on my wrist before I swallowed my mouthful. Once it had hit my throat, burning and twisting in a new and unpleasant way, Azazal pulled back his hand from me again, and I saw that his fingers had shiny red burns upon them this time. Dee, at my side, nodded in a satisfied way. The boy on the floor had stopped all movement now. Azazal gave a piercing shove of a look at us both, and then took several long loping strides away until he rounded a corner and was gone.

I tried to appreciate what had just happened. Looking down at the boy on the floor and the now hysterical parent that was rubbing at his arms and legs, I tried to feel some sadness for them. My confusion was too great. I couldn’t imagine anyone or thing wanting to do what we did if they didn’t have to, and especially if their tools didn’t cooperate towards the end. And so what was this Azazel thing, and why did it want the souls we were out to collect?

Dee was tuned in to my frequency of confusion.

“Let’s take a lunch break, and I’ll explain Azazel. As you may have guessed, it’s another complication in our line of work.”

We weaved and dodged out of the crowd around the boy, and I wondered if we were the good guys who took the soul for the benefit of its owner, then how much worse could the theft of the soul for other purposes be?

Much worse.