This flash fiction tale comes from Steven H. Wilson—award-winning fiction author, publisher, and podcaster. I’ve known Steve for 25 years. To me, he is a mentor, a friend, a brother. Both of my paranormal mystery novels and my latest anthology were released through Steve’s publishing imprint, Firebringer Press. He is the founder of Prometheus Radio Theatre and co-founder of Farpoint, a long-running annual SF convention in Maryland.
Steve is the the creator of the Mark Time and Parsec Award-winning podcast series The Arbiter Chronicles, as well as the author of two novels spawned by the series Taken Liberty and Unfriendly Persuasion. He is also the author of Peace Lord of the Red Planet and three short stories for the ReDeus series from Crazy 8 Press. He has written for DC Comics and Starlog, and is publisher for the Maryland-based Firebringer Press, whose recent anthologies include Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity and Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity.
by Steven H. Wilson
The first card says this poor guy has cancer. Yeah, they gave me 3×5 cards. Like it’s 1968 or something. “Just go by the script,” they said.
I go by the script. It doesn’t go well.
“I won’t go.” He folds his ghostly arms and sits down on his own dead body.
Sounds a little weird, right? Sits on his own dead body? Ghostly arms? 3×5 cards?
Yesterday, I was another dumb, suburban kid. My biggest worries were that I just failed a French test, that my mom and dad were going to repop my license, that I had a big date coming up.
This morning, I find out I’m not human. I’m an otherworldly being in a teenage boy’s body. I work for an outfit slightly bigger than the Board of Education, though maybe, given the 3×5 cards, with a slightly lower budget.
My new supervisor, Supreme General Ball of Light (or whatever), possesses my Trig teacher. Light spilling out his eyes, Dolby Surround voice, the works. And the whole class freezes. Even the screen saver on the teacher’s laptop stops moving.
He tells me to stop the humanity crap and get to work. First pickup is at the hospital. Take this stupid little plastic file box.
I protest. He waves his hand. I’m no longer in school. I’m in the hospital room of a terminal cancer patient. About 45. Could be one of my friends’ dads. He’s dying, like now. I read him the introductory card, which says I’m here to collect his soul.
Think you’re lost? Imagine how I feel.
“Screw you, kid. I’m not going with you,” says Mr. Arms-Crossed-Almost-Dead-Guy.
What the hell do I do?
I ask, “Would you, uh, like to speak to my supervisor or something?”
“Are you kidding?”
I flip the cards. The next one comes up blank, then words appear:
You have no supervisor. There’s no appeal.
You’re on your own, kid.
I tell him, “I didn’t ask for this job. I was just sorta… put here with these cards.”
“Great. They send a rookie. Could be worse. At least you speak English.”
“I’m sorry about your, um, death. My aunt died of cancer.”
“You have relatives? Aren’t you a demon or something?”
“I don’t know exactly. I’m just supposed to, um, claim your soul?”
God, it sounds creepy, doesn’t it? Like I’m some kinda pervy spiritual rapist.
He laughs, but it’s, like, edged with hysteria. “And where do you take my soul, Junior?”
“Um,” I look at the next index card.
That’s not your department.
“That’s bullshit!” I say, showing it to him.
The next card says, The Boss doesn’t like swearing.
There’s a horrible sound, like a lawn mower trying to start in Hell. It’s coming from his body. It starts to lurch and shake. It’s trying to draw breath.
He looks down. “Holy shit.”
Hospital staff rush in. One runs right through me. Weird. They don’t see.
“You’re dying,” I say. “You should come with me.”
“Maybe they’ll revive me. What then?”
The next card: Not Happening. Tell him he doesn’t want to be with his body when it dies.
I tell him.
“Why?” he asks.
Trust me, says the card.
He doesn’t trust me. He says. “This is my body. Do you understand? This is my life.” Like a snowman melting in time-release, he disappears back into the wildly shaking body, the dying thing on the bed.
He shrieks. The soul shrieks. It’s –no, I can’t describe it. A soul shrieking is not like… anything. Hearing it is the worst pain I’ve ever felt.
“Jesus,” I mutter.
As if I had Bluetooth, there’s a little click in my ear, and the sound of a ringing phone. A voice says, “Hey, it’s Josh. You know what to do.” Then there’s a beep.
“Sorry,” I say to the voice mail. “Wrong number.”
The hell? I’ve got speed dial to Heaven? Was that–?
From the place the shrieks came– I don’t know where that is–the soul calls out, “Kid, please! Save me!”
“What do I do?” I ask.
The card says, Go in and get him. Just jump.
Unless you pull him out, to him, seconds of death will be an eternity of pain and suffering.
“What? Why would you let that happen?”
I didn’t. I sent you.
He calls out for me again, and, frightened as I am, I can’t ignore a soul in torment. It’s not in me. I look at his body, and, stupid as it feels, I jump.
No more hospital. I jump… into him. Into his personal valley of death.
What’s it like? I don’t wanna talk about it. Let’s just say that I find him, grab his ghostly hand, pull him out. I lift him in spiritual arms so strong I can’t believe they’re mine, and I carry him out.
In daylight, in the park beside the hospital, he sobs on my shoulder.
“It’s all right,” I tell him. “I’m here. It’s gonna be okay.”
He looks up at me. First time he’s looked at me, really. Before he was angry. Just kinda looking through me and past me. I guess all he saw was a dumb kid in ripped jeans and a hoodie that his mom paid too much for.
Now, you can tell by his eyes, he sees something else.
“You’re beautiful,” he tells me.
I’m embarrassed. “It’s mostly special effects.”
“Thanks for getting me out of there.”
“Don’t mention it. Come on. I’ll take you home.”
I take his hand, like he was a little boy. A little lost soul. I lead him up.
“Are you—really—an angel?” he asks me.
Yeah. I guess I so. It’s actually on the first card taped to the lid of my plastic file box.
Samael. Level 5. Accuser, seducer, destroyer. Angel of Death.
“Hey,” I say to him. “Why don’t you just call me Sam?”