Friday, December 31, 2010

Update for the week: I have been working, but not on my nonfiction like I wanted to. I was asked to do another project, but I'm not going to tell you what it's about right now. I don't want to jinx it.

I decided to post one of my favorite stories for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy!

The Soul Collector

Rain waited in line to receive her assignment. The smell of sulfur tickled her nose, and volcanic rock crunched under her talons. To her left lay a vast sea of molten lava, and to her right was another line, which was filled with the souls of the newly dead on their way to torment. Rain didn’t pay too much attention to them. She raised her arms up and extended her wings over her head. The middle joint on her right wing popped, followed by the grinding of cartilage, and Rain winced in pain. She hated when she slept on her wings wrong; it always put her in a foul mood. She snarled as she was handed a scroll, and with a quick flap of her wings, she leapt into the air.

She made her way across the desert to the maximum security fortress that was surrounded on all sides by the rolling sands of nothing. There was one road that approached from the south and connected with a highway 50 miles away. Rain perched on top of a guard tower and stared down at the men in the exercise yard. Most of them were trying to protect themselves from the dry dust-filled wind that constantly blew across the landscape. They huddled in packs and pushed their shoulders up to shield their faces. Their gazes were directed toward the ground, although most of them wouldn’t have been able to see her if they had looked up.

She glanced around the complex and noticed a two story building set apart from the others and surrounded by another set of gates topped with razor wire. She pushed off from the rooftop and made her way toward Death Row. Rain entered through the bars on the window and made her way across the ceiling to the hall and turned to face the cells. A soul that was ready to be collected shone with a blue hue that could be seen from miles away and through walls. She found her target and headed to her right.

The man was sitting on the edge of his bed with his elbows resting on his knees, fingers entwined, head bent low. She poked her head through the bars and growled when she sensed another presence. She glanced at the window and noticed and angel sitting on the edge. She flipped onto the floor, and threw her shoulders back as she folded her wings. Rain threaded her arms through the bars and clasped her fingers together.

“Jeremiah,” she hissed, “I didn’t expect to see you.”

The angel nodded his head, causing his brown curls to bounce onto his forehead.
Rain was used to working with angels; it was part of the job description. Each one was there to collect a soul, and it generally wasn’t until right before death that they knew who would get it.

“You really shouldn’t be here.” She lifted her right arm and twisted her wrist in the air and pulled it down about six inches. Where there had been nothing before, a scroll now appeared, and she pointed the end toward Jeremiah. “We have the necessary paperwork. This one is ours.”

Jeremiah’s lips curled into a smile and his dark eyes twinkled. He readjusted himself on the windowsill and pulled his legs under him so he was sitting cross legged. “The decree of the council is not always final. God still has the opportunity to pardon His servants at will.”

The anger began as a tingling in Rain’s chest that spread out first to her arms, then to the rest of her extremities. She snapped and the scroll disappeared. Pushing her way through the bars, she made her way across the room and scaled the wall so she was face to face with the angel.

“We had a deal!” she snarled.

Unaffected, Jeremiah shrugged. “God has rescinded His judgment. He has the priority, you know. He felt that is wasn’t our responsibility to decide the fate of the mortal’s soul. He thought it best to leave it up to the man.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and lowered his voice. “There is the possibility that he could be going with you.”

Rain pulled her lips back so her pointed white teeth were exposed. She dug her claws deeper into the cement wall to keep herself from swiping out and spilling the angel’s intestines. Every muscle in her body ached to tear Jeremiah apart, and her stomach growled for the fresh meat, but it was against the rules. Both sides were entitled equally to the soul, and any show of aggression on the collector’s part would result in an all out war, and neither side had the army to engage in such a campaign, especially Hell.

She hissed again and flung herself out the window.

Cursing and spitting, she hovered in the air. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and took off toward it. For a brief second, she hovered over the coyote before diving and digging her claws into its fur. The creature yelped in pain, and Rain didn’t stop until it was nothing but a few chunks of fur and flesh. With the back of her hand, she wiped the blood from her lips, and then made her way back to the prison.

She found the men in the mess hall, quietly eating dinner. She found a perch in the corner of the room and took in the scene. One man, about fifty yards to her right, was looking directly at her, his fork frozen in the air in front of his mouth. The other man sitting at the table with him bumped him with an elbow and asked him what was wrong. Pulled back into reality, the first man stared at him blankly for a moment before telling him nothing. He glanced back at Rain for a brief second, then lowered his head and finished his meal.

Rain pulled her lips back into a smile. She was always surprised by the people who were able to see her. Sometimes it was a child, sometimes a priest. She had even been sensed by a blind man. It didn’t seem to matter that the individual be deeply religious or atheist. No one knew why some humans were sensitive and others weren’t, and it wasn’t like the angels and demons were spending the time to figure it out. Rain thoroughly enjoyed when a human could see her; it was one of the few pleasures she endured.

As the man left the dining hall, Rain made it a point to follow him. He went back to his cell and sat on the bottom bunk. She flapped into the corner and stared down at him. She guessed that he was somewhere in his mid-fifties. His hair was white and lines creased the corners of his eyes. He avoided eye contact with her, and rubbed his hands together, which shh-shhed like sandpaper. She made her way down the wall so she was directly in front of him, and noticed that he had tattoos of Celtic crosses on his neck and the number 26229 stitched over his right breast. Rain could tell that he was sweating, and he glanced at her briefly out of the corner of his eye. Prisoner 26229 attempted to get up from the bed, but she placed her arm in front of him, trapping him in the small room. He shifted from one foot to the other and wiped his hands on his pants.

“Are you going to kill me?” he whispered.

Rain smiled again. “No. That’s not my job.”

“What do you want from me?”

“A moment of your time.”

Prisoner 26229 sat back down on the bed and glanced nervously from the open door to the floor. Rain positioned herself so she was crouching in front of him.

“What are you?” He brought up the courage to look her in the eyes for a brief second.

“I am a soul collector.”

He stopped rubbing his hands together and sucked in a breath. “Are you here for Devin?”

Rain nodded.

Prisoner 26229 slapped his thigh and shook his head. “I knew it. I knew that f*cker was going to Hell. He may have found faith and been preaching the word to other inmates, but that don’t change a person’s soul.”

Rain felt the anger well up inside her again, and she dug her claws in her fist to keep from lashing out. “There is no guarantee that he is going to Hell.”

The man pushed his eyebrows together and met her gaze. “What do you mean? The bastard tortured and murdered eleven people. He doesn’t deserve Heaven.”

Rain pushed herself up and buried the claws of her feet into the wall. “I agree with you one hundred percent. But it’s not that easy. Because of God’s loophole with repentance and salvation, a lot of undeserving souls go to Heaven.”

Prisoner 26229 gritted his teeth and grasped the side of the bed. Rain watched his knuckles turn white and his face turn red. “That piece of sh*t, after all the horrible things he has done in his life, may get to go to Heaven because he repents his sins?”

She folded her arms across her chest. “It’s not that easy, either. Souls that find salvation on their death beds do not automatically make it to Heaven, they go through what you humans have termed Purgatory. There, they must pass certain tests that prove they truly believe in God, and if they don’t, they go to Hell.”

The man let go of the side of the bed and placed his elbows on his knees. He leaned forward slightly. “What kind of tests?”

Rain shrugged. “It depends on the sin. For someone like Devin, he would become a guardian angel.”

Prisoner 26229 frowned. “What would that prove?”

“That he can do something kind for humanity.”

A silence passed between the two, and Rain found herself thinking about Devin. It wasn’t fair that he should be able to save his soul, especially after raping, torturing, and murdering eleven women. Rain had been a soul collector for over forty years, a relatively short time in the scheme of creation, but in that time she had taken many souls. She had lost quite a few, also. Losing the minor souls didn’t bother her much—those who had committed adultery, were greedy, or committed suicide—because they weren’t hurting anyone but themselves. But she couldn’t abide losing a murderer. Individuals who had to murder during times of war or to protect themselves, Rain could be a little more lenient with; she understood that certain circumstances required certain reactions. But those who did for the sheer pleasure or in the heat of passion, they deserved to rot in Hell.

Rain had been a nineteen year old optimist in the summer of 1962, and had just started her sophomore year of community college. One night, while walking back to the dorms from a night class, she was brutally attacked and murdered by a drifter making his way through town. She had been an atheist at the time, so her soul was sent into limbo. Her task to get into Heaven was to create miracles, such as bleeding statues, weeping pictures, and other phenomena, but Rain couldn’t do it. The only thing she could think about was getting revenge.

She left her post in Italy and made her way back to the States where she haunted the man who had killed her for several years before he finally killed himself. She relished every moment of it, too. Since she was a ghost, she never needed sleep, and she made sure he never had a moment of peace. He believed that he was doing God’s work by ridding the world of females who challenged the patriarchal system, and he would stalk a victim for a few days before eventually slitting their throats. Since he already believed he was hearing voices in his head, Rain made sure she gave him a conflicting message. And the bangs and bumps of what she believed was a normal haunting set him more on edge. He still killed a couple of girls under her watch, but with persistence, she finally drove him to the breaking point, and he took his knife to his own throat.

She watched and waited for the soul collectors to arrive, then dispatched of them before they could take his soul. She carried it herself into the pits of Hell. Many of the higher level demons were so impressed with her passion and desire for revenge, she was given the position of the collector she had murdered. Angels in Heaven threw a fit and demanded that she be locked up for what she had done to their collector, but since she wasn’t an agent for Hell at the time, they really couldn’t touch her. The only thing they could do was ban her from Heaven for eternity.

Rain knew that by becoming a soul collector there were certain rules she would have to obey. The first of which was that she couldn’t kill an agent of Heaven. Rain was willing to follow all the laws that had been placed between the two factions, as long as it meant she could send as many murderers to Hell as possible.

“You’re nothing like what I expected you to be.” The man’s voice brought her back to her present situation.

“What did you expect?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Something more evil I guess.” He held up his hands and flinched, although Rain never moved. “I mean, not that you’re not scary. Your voice is like a chainsaw murdering an eagle.” He shivered. “And those claws. Fuck, I don’t want them tearing into me. But all in all, you remind me of a Ray Harryhausen creature.”

It wasn’t the first time Rain had been compared to Mr. Harryhausen’s creatures; several other people had made the same comparison. After the fourth time, she decided she was going to find out what they were talking about, and discovered the reference from one of his Sinbad movies. The creatures had been referred to as Furies, but they were nothing more than Tormentors. They kept the tormented from enjoying the wonderful foods that had been set at a table. Rain was shocked at the resemblance. Like her, their scaly skin was blackish purple and their black eyes faded into their sockets. Their horns were only a couple of inches long, and although they had breasts, there were no other sexual organs. The only conclusion Rain could come to was that Mr. Harryhausen could see demons.

Rain pulled her feet out of the wall and positioned herself so her face was inches from his. “Would you like me to be more evil?”

The man visibly began to sweat, and he leaned away, shaking his head with small jerky movements. “That’s not what I meant.” He whispered. “I just didn’t think a demon would spend the time talking to a human. Or show itself in true form.”

Rain shrugged and backed against the wall, folding her arms across her chest. “Even we get a little lonely now and then. And I can’t change shape. I’m not a shape shifter. Besides, did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason I’m being so nice to you is because I will be back one day to collect you?”

The color drained from the man’s face and his breathing became shallow. She reached out and touched Prisoner 26229’s face; he flinched as her ice-cold fingers brushed his cheek. Rain curled her lips into a smile, and with a quick flap of her wings, left the man alone in his cell.

She made her way back to Death Row, and watched as Devin prayed with the priest, asking for forgiveness for all of his sins. She hissed and glanced over at Jeremiah, who met her gaze with the same smile he had earlier. The anger flooded her body again, but she kept it in check until the inmate was taken to the chamber he would die in.

Rain licked her lips as they strapped him to the table and inserted the IVs into his arm. She stood in the corner on one side of the room, and Jeremiah was on the other. They both already knew what the fate of his soul would be.

As soon as his last breath escaped, the blue hue rose from his body. At first, it took the shape of the man before crumpling into an orb. Both angel and demon approached it as it hovered in the air. She glanced over at Jeremiah, he was still smiling, and fought back the urge to rip the flesh off his face and suck his brains out of his eye sockets. He pulled a small golden box out of the folds of his robe, and gently placed the orb inside. There were two chains connected to either side of the box with a bracelet on each end. Rain watched Jeremiah snap the cuff around his wrist before attaching her own. The pair made their way to Purgatory, which lay half way between Heaven and Hell in a parallel universe.

Purgatory looked like a typical waiting room that could be found in any doctor’s office or hospital on Earth, with benches and tables full of magazines. The receptionist’s windows were at the far end of the room, and there were both angels and demons handing out assignments and sending the souls on their way. Rain shivered as they entered the room. Millions of souls were waiting to be told what to do; some patiently, some not. The room always seemed to be in chaos as the majority of the souls didn’t realize that they were dead, forcing angel and demon advocates to explain their situation. This caused a great deal of confusion and disbelief, which could erupt from the soul in a display of violence or uncontrollable sobbing. Then there were the escapees; souls who believed they could make a run for it and return to their body before it was placed in the ground. Someone was always getting tackled, and there were always the deafening sounds of sorrow and curses echoing through the air. Rain was glad she didn’t have to work there.

The two of them took their soul to the admissions window, and Rain handed the angel the scroll she had been carrying. The woman took a brief look at it before tossing it to the side. She took the name of the soul, their names, then told them to take Devin to the waiting room. The found an empty seat in the middle of the room, and the ball unfolded into a human form, almost tangible but thin like tissue paper. He glanced around his surroundings and blinked.

“I’m dead, aren’t I?” He whispered.

Jeremiah knelt next to him to explain the situation, but Rain turned and went back to Hell.

A few weeks later, Rain stood on the edge of a precipice, overlooking a pit where souls were tortured by having their skin removed in strips and replaced with layers of broken glass, maggots, and salt. She heard movement behind her and turned to see Jeremiah and two other angels being accompanied by two guard demons, creatures that looked like hairless dogs and stood eight feet tall with large bulging muscles, white burning eyes, sharp teeth and claws, and a nasty disposition. It was rare for an angel to enter the realms of Hell, and if they were to deviate from between the two beasts, they would have been shredded on sight. Rain noticed for the first time that the smile had faded from Jeremiah’s face, and his normally soft dark eyes had an edge to them. She took a few steps forward and met them halfway.

“Jeremiah,” she tried to suppress her own smile, “I didn’t expect to see you.”

He stopped abruptly, causing one of the beasts to turn and snarl sharply. Rain held up a hand to calm it down.

“Where is he, Rain?”

She shook her head and pushed her eyebrows together. “Where is who?”

“Devin. He is missing from Purgatory.”

Rain folded her arms across her chest and felt the anger rise in her chest. “Well ,I have to say I don’t know, Jeremiah. The last time I saw him was when you and I dropped him off.”

Jeremiah huffed. “Don’t lie to me. What did you do with him?”

Rain covered the space between her and the angel in a few seconds and stuck her face right into his. She grabbed his face with her right hand and placed her claws on his cheek, not deep enough to break skin but deep enough so he would know they were there. The other angels went to move in, but the guard demons stopped them with a show of their teeth.

“Don’t you dare come into my home and accuse me of stealing a soul!” she growled. “I may not have been happy that God rescinded His deal, but I still play by the rules. Check my files. I haven’t broken a rule since becoming a collector.” She released his face and took a step back. “Besides, souls go missing all the time from Purgatory. If you recall, it took you several years to find me when I left.” She folded her arms across her chest and shrugged. “I’m sure he’ll show up in time.” She waved nonchalantly, and the guard dogs began to herd the angels out.

She watched Jeremiah glance over his shoulder and narrow his eyes to slits. She smiled at him before he vanished from sight.

A few months later, after Rain was sure that Jeremiah was no longer following her, she made her way back to the prison. She went to Prisoner 26229’s cell and found him laying in bed, reading a book. He flinched and grabbed his chest when he noticed she was in the room.

“Jesus! Don’t you give some warning when you enter a room?”

“I need the package,” was the only thing she said.

He flipped himself off the bed and crouched in front of the wall. He placed his fingers in the holes her claws had made months earlier and pulled out the brick. Reaching in, he pulled out a wooden black box, six inches square, with a silver lock. He stared at it for a moment before handing it to her.

“You will make sure that the piece of sh*t goes to Hell, right? That’s where he belongs.”

She took it cautiously, and pulled it next to her chest. The anger that had once flooded her body was replaced with electric excitement. “Of course.”

“How do you plan on going about it?”

She looked up at him and smiled. “It’s not hard to torment an already tortured soul. Certain situations always trigger their animal desires. I just have to make sure he’s in a situation that keeps those desires fed.” She turned to leave the room when she was stopped by the prisoner’s voice.

“You remember our deal don’t you?”

She glanced at him over her shoulder and raised her right hand, pulling a scroll out of thin air. “I’ve got the paperwork right here.”

She noticed his body physically relax, and she snapped the scroll out of the air. With a quick flap of her wings, she disappeared into the dark sky.

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