Lost in shadow, I surveyed my surroundings and took my time to ensure the area was deserted. The squall outside fell in stinging gusts, creating a tympanic frenzy of contending melodies. I paused for a moment to savor the erratic beat of rain against metal, glass, and corrugated roofing. Only with the greatest effort could I break free from its hypnotic discord to concentrate on the task at hand.
This didn’t take long, for I’d chosen my location well. It was past midnight, and my position at the top of the stairwell afforded me a commanding view of the parking lot outside. Apart from a sole discarded coffee cup tumbling its way along a line of stationary vehicles like a demented gymnast, I was completely alone and invisible to the detritus of humanity sleeping fitfully beneath makeshift shelters throughout the different levels of the garage.
The scant security lighting that still worked did little to illuminate the area. If anything, each lamp created a swathe of gloom that I would use to my advantage, for my assignment here would end shortly: it was almost time to go home.
Just the thought of getting back sent a twinge of pleasure tingling along my spine. While my work afforded me a degree of freedom enjoyed by no one else, I always felt fatigued the longer I stayed away. And a week was simply too long.
Still, it’s been a good harvest. Not only was I able to sort out a major problem for the Boss, but the latest candidates should go a long way toward calming his frustrations.
A faint echo portending ravenous hunger intruded at the edge of my astral perceptions. Adjusting my awareness, I sensed my quarry coming closer. Forewarned, I used the opportunity to mentally review his rap-sheet.
Jesus Toledo Perez. Born 1980, in New Mexico, to Alberto Toledo and Christina Perez. A fraternal twin introduced to his true vocation at the tender age of just five years, when he smothered his sibling, Alana, in her sleep following an infantile spat. Authorities weren’t able to pin anything on him at the time, and how would they? An innocent child, rolling over in the night to cuddle his sister as they slept? Little did the Toledo family appreciate the monster born into their midst that day.
But we did, and that act had drawn him to our attention. For as little Jesus grew up, his crimes progressed from random acts of asphyxiation as a child to the more opportunistic, premeditated, hormone-driven angst of a teenager. By the time he graduated, Jesus had strangled, drowned, and pushed seven people to their deaths.
Hmm. Judging from what it says here, he always acted as if he was daring the authorities to catch him. Just what we want. A cold, calculating killer with a God complex.
I watched him from my place of concealment as he edged his way out onto the top tier from the opposite side of the level. Hiding beneath an oversized golf umbrella, and dressed to the nines in an expensive suit and raincoat, he looked every bit the highflyer currently establishing himself as a philanthropist and charity worker among the city’s homeless.
The perfect cover.
Or so he thinks.
I noticed he was carrying a plastic bag. Despite the wind, I could hear the contents clunking as he moved.
Aha! Going with the poisoned hooch option tonight, are we?
I suppressed a snort at the poignancy of the situation.
I’ve got a real-life Jesus of suburbia right in front of me, but the only salvation he’ll be bringing one of the poor and lowly tonight is a release from the suffering of their miserable lives.
Time to intercede.
Like a wraith, I detached myself from the gloom and stepped out into the night. Within moments, the rain had soaked my hair and beaded my trench coat and sunglasses in a chainmail of translucent pearls. Gliding silently between parked vehicles, the only sign of my advance came from the momentary dimming of the overhead lights as I passed.
I neared my target, and noticed Jesus had stooped low over a congregation of cardboard boxes between two large trucks. The soft chink of glass scraping on concrete signaled his preparations, and in moments several bottles stood on the floor before him.
“There you go,” he crooned, “this’ll help keep you warm on a night like this.”
Several pairs of grubby hands snaked out from darkened alcoves. Grasping at the unexpected gifts they fought among themselves, frantic for any solace that might ease the drudgery of their existence, if only for a little while.
A cap popped, and necks craned as bottles were lifted toward eager lips.
Oh no you don’t!
I swept forward and slapped one of the bottles away from desperate fingers. Full of liquid, it bounced once before exploding in a shower of liquid-crystal splinters.
Jesus spun to face whoever had intervened in his machinations. His look of anger blanched into one of fear as his gaze met mine.
I couldn’t blame him. Despite the glasses, I’d always had that effect on people.
Dressed from head to toe in black, and coming in at over six feet tall, I exuded an air of menace and barely suppressed aggression.
Without taking my eyes from him, I grabbed Jesus by the collar, lifted him off the floor, and addressed the bums now cowering inside their rain-sodden caves. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you value your existence I strongly suggest you stay where you are for the next few minutes. Enjoy your beverages, and the fact that each of you will now live to see the dawning of a brand new day.”
As I concluded my sentence, I flexed, and sent Jesus sailing through the downpour behind me. Only then did I pause to regard the occupants within their shelters.
Nervous, owl-like expressions stared back.
Holding their attention, I nodded once to reinforce my point, then turned on my heels and stalked toward my mark.
Jesus hit the deck with a tooth-jarring thud, and the air whooshed from his lungs. He rolled onto his side, groaning and coughing up blood. Shaking the moisture from his rain-sodden brow, he attempted to push himself up on his hands and knees.
I slowed my advance and unfastened the buttons of my coat. With infinite care, I pulled my left-hand glove off by its fingertips.
A gust of wind brought the coffee cup careening our way.
Tap, tap! Splat! Tappiddy-splat, tap, tap!
Mesmerized, we both stopped to watch as it scudded past and commenced dancing around us in circles. Jesus used the interlude to stagger to his feet. Swaying, he forced down a ragged breath and threw me a dirty look.
Idiot! You’re just making your last moments on Earth all the more unpleasant.
I surged forward, balled my right fist and punched him in the face. His nose shattered with a satisfying crunch. Spinning head over heels, Jesus spiraled away from me, smashed through the doorway, and landed in a heap at the top of the stairwell. I was on him in seconds, but allowed him the courtesy of regaining his wits before I continued.
Jesus struggled to regain his focus. Blinking furiously, he clutched his face and peered up through tear-laden eyes. Although unsteady, I hadn’t quite knocked the stuffing out of him. “Who the fuck are you?” he hissed. “What do you want?”
Sweeping the vent of my coat to one side, I exposed my weapon for the briefest fraction of a second and removed an official-looking document sealed in blood-red wax from an inside pocket.
He caught sight of the hi-tech sickle and froze.
I cracked the seal, unfolded the scroll, and said, “Jesus Toledo Perez. Listen carefully. This is an official Hellegal Declaration. For your crimes against humanity, you have damned yourself, and your life is forfeit. I am authorized by His Satanic Majesty to reap your eternal soul. Sentence is to be carried out immediately. Are there any last words you’d like to say?”
“What?” he spluttered. “Are you kidding me? Are you seriously trying to make out you’re some kind of Grim Reaper?”
Why do they always say that?
“No, this isn’t a joke.” I stepped forward and held out my exposed hand, as if offering to help him stand. “We’ve been watching you ever since you murdered little Alana, all those years ago. Mind you, I’ve got to be honest. Even then, you didn’t stand condemned, childhood naivety and all that. However, because of your course of action since then —” I shrugged, my left hand still proffered. “Well, that’s a whole new ball game.”
I smiled like I was his new best friend.
That did the trick. Reaching out, Jesus accepted my offer.
As we made contact, the letters etched across the parchment glowed white hot. Jesus gasped and his eyes widened in shock. Then the writ itself burst into flames. At that exact moment, he stiffened, as if impaled on a spike of unimaginable agony. All tension drained from his body, and Jesus folded silently onto the floor.
“Another fool successfully bound for hell,” I mumbled. “Speaking of which . . .”
I glanced back out across the parking lot, and checked to ensure my activities had remained unobserved.
Satisfied, I leaned over the internal rails and stared down into the darkness of the sub-basement.
Excellent. Nice and clean, just the way I like it.
The tempo of the rain drumming against the roof increased, as if bidding me a fond farewell.
Time to go.
I removed my other glove to ensure both hands were free, then slid my scythe from its sheath. Depressing the center gem adorning the handle, I listened as a faint whine confirmed a build-up of power. A tingling sensation crawled across my skin. Gripping the staff firmly, I channeled my energy along its length and slammed the butt into the ground.
“Dorash! Mi dreósgadh ânise!” I intoned in ancient Hellanese. (Portal! Open to me now.)
The floor sagged and fell away, as if a sinkhole had opened beneath it. Moments later, a swirling vortex created a void between dimensions. Tongues of lightning played along the edges of a boiling corona. Stabbing out, they probed the walls and railings in a sizzling discharge that sent sparks dancing along my clothes and across the surface of my skin. A stiff breeze erupted in response to the sudden vacuum. Redolent with sulfur and charred flesh, it put me immediately at ease.
With a final glance at the body of the late, not so great, Jesus Toledo Perez, I jumped into the jaws of doom. Engulfed within a maelstrom of kaleidoscopic contradictions, I felt as if I were floating on air before the heady rush of an insane descent swept me away.
Eternity became encapsulated within an instant, and before I knew it I’d slammed into an entirely different type of ground; I felt my spirit resonate to a familiar vibe.
I inhaled the sweet fragrance of home.
Tappiddy-tap, tap, plop!
Eh? I glanced down.
The coffee cup obviously liked my company; it had decided to string along on my descent into hell.
Well, look at that! It got sucked into the vortex along with me.
I determined that perhaps it would be nice to keep this little memento of my latest trip topside. I stooped toward it, but the polystyrene had already blackened, bubbled, and begun to melt.
Bugger! I sighed. Ah well, this place isn’t for everyone.