Stories 2 Winter 2014

 

 

 

A Hell of a Day in Heaven

            by   Michael  C.  Keith

 

It is not of some importance but is of

fundamental importance that justice should not only be

done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen

to be done.

     –– Lord Hewart        

 

                                                                                         

While the gathering of homicide victims in the Eternal Kingdom was one of the year’s most anticipated events, it was a day of mixed feelings for those who had perpetrated the crimes against them. To the multitude of offenders, a few hours away from the fires of Hell was a welcome one, but having to face their victims was irritating, if not unpleasant, to many. As serial killer Giles Blake observed, it was “the fly in the ointment.” 

 

“Would be a decent break, but facing these whiners ruins it. What do they have to complain about? They’re in paradise, for Chrissakes!”

 

Conway Helm, Blake’s fellow mass-murderer, agreed. “All we did was send them to a better world, and for that we burn. Not fair!”

 

“Yeah,” complained another violent predator, “We should have been thanked for what we did, but instead we’re sentenced to endless damnation. The world is a messed-up place. The do-gooders don’t do the great thing we do. We give people what they pray for––life everlasting in Eden.”

 

His lament was joined by those of countless other murderers, and then the moment arrived when they were transported upward. The instant the transgressors appeared before the waiting crowd, it fell silent. For a protracted moment, the criminals peered out at their victims from an elevated stage waiting for what they knew would happen next.

 

They were quickly paired with their former quarry and directed to a private space where what was called “The Reckoning” would take place. The wrongdoers were not permitted to speak unless asked to do so by their victims. In that event, the slayers were required to respond as succinctly as possible. No appeals for forgiveness or mercy were allowed. There could be no redemption for those consigned to the netherworld. The sole purpose of their appearance was to provide their former prey an opportunity to rebuke them for their heinous deeds. Not all victims participated in the annual ritual, but for those who chose to do so, it was often a worthwhile experience.

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

Giles Baker had been through the procedure dozens of times and had learned to turn a deaf ear to the admonitions and entreaties of his kills. He had quickly grown weary of the same old question: “Why did you do it?” These people just didn’t get it, he’d concluded. I didn’t kill them because of what theydid. They always think it was about them. I did what I did because it felt good. The pleading and begging got me off. It made me feel alive  . . . the only time I ever did.

 

After listening to 11 of his 17 victims, all he felt was satisfaction over what he’d done. Moaners . . . deserved what they got. Giles was prepared for the predictable drop back to Hades, since he figured he’d seen all of his complainants, when a small figure appeared before him.

 

“I grant you permission to speak,” the young woman said, in a near whisper.

 

For a moment, Giles did not recognize her. When he did, he was surprised and agitated.

 

“You!” he spat.

 

“Yes, me,” replied the woman, her voice gaining volume.

 

“You were my biggest disappointment. You just stood there expressionless as I pulled the trigger. Shouldn’t have killed you . . . a waste of good energy. But I had no choice. You could ID me.”

 

“I wasn’t going to bother, but I thought I’d thank you.”

 

“What?” hissed Giles, not believing what he heard. “Just let me go back down. I don’t need your mocking.”

 

“No, really, thank you. I was going to kill myself. My life was miserable. I wanted out. You saved me the trouble of committing suicide. I wouldn’t have been allowed into Heaven if I had. Catholics who kill themselves are spurned and turned away.”

 

“You’re such an unfeeling bitch,” growled Giles.

 

The woman began to laugh.

 

“So, you’re really my victim.”

 

Before Giles could respond, his body was again engulfed in flames.

 

                                                                        #

 

Bio:  Michael C. Keith writes fiction and teaches college. www.michaelckeith.com

 

 

 

 

Laura

by  Clifford Hui

        

The hospital room door was open as it always was, and Tom Morris stepped inside, using his cane more like a walking stick than a crutch.  His thinning white hair was combed to show a neat part on the left, and he wore a camel hair coat over his shirt, white with thin brown stripes.  He pulled a chair over beside the bed and eased himself down. He leaned his cane against the foot of the bed.

          “Hello, Laura,” he said.  He took Laura’s limp hand in both of his as he looked at her face.  A flexible air hose crossed her pale cheek, and its mask covered her mouth and nose.  Her eyes were closed, and her chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm.  Otherwise, she was still.

         “It’s a beautiful day outside, clear with just a touch of autumn, your favorite time of year.  The leaves are just starting to turn, and soon the whole landscape will be reds and oranges and yellows.  This is when we always went for our longest walks, just to admire the scenery and to be invigorated by the weather.  You remember.”

          Tom searched her eyelids for movement and patted her hand to elicit a response.  Laura remained still.       

         “Chuck and Edna had me over for dinner again last night.  They served that great pot roast that Edna cooks.  You know, the one braised in port wine and red onions.  If she could sell that recipe, they would be rich or famous or both.  They said they wanted to make sure I didn’t waste away while the chief cook was laid up.  They sent some home with me.”  Tom paused and gently squeezed Laura’s soft hand.  “They send their best.” 

         Tom stared at the floor for a moment.  Then,  aware of his silk tie patterned with swirls of dark brown and strands of gold, he looked up.  “I’m wearing your favorite tie today.  I remember buying it because it made me think of you.  It’s the same dark brown as your hair was back then, and the swirling pattern is just like the way your hair fell onto your shoulders in those days.”   He caressed the back of her hand and looked at her hair, short and thinning now, forming a pale splash on her pillow.  “The gold on it reminds me of all the gold jewelry you like to wear, especially the bracelets.  You always looked so festive, even just going to the market.”  He looked down at her fragile wrist, patterned with age spots and adorned now with only the hospital identification band.  He sighed.

         “At dinner, Chuck and Edna talked about that dance contest we won back in college.  They said we were obviously the best couple on the dance floor.  We made all those moves look so easy.  They didn’t know that we spent so much time practicing that I barely passed English Lit that semester.  But you were the smart one.  Your grades didn’t suffer a bit.”  Tom stared past the blank walls to some place far away.  “You were a natural dancer,” he said softly.  “You had that trim figure and strong legs.  If you didn’t know it before, let me tell you now that there were a lot of guys jealous of me.”

         Tom leaned back in the chair, continuing to hold Laura’s hand in both of his.  He was quiet for a while.  The only sounds were the steady hum, rhythmic click, and intermittent whirr of the various machines in the room.  They crowded a rack on the wall at the head of Laura’s bed.

         “You always had flowers in the house.  I brought you red roses on your birthday and on our anniversary and on Valentine’s Day.  But you said daisies were your favorite for every other day because they were always so cheerful.  Our front yard was full of them and you always had some in a vase in the front room by the big window.”  Tom looked around at the pale green walls and furniture of metal and plastic.  “I’m sorry they don’t allow flowers in here.  I wanted to bring you a vase of daisies, even a small vase, but the nurses said no.  ‘Allergies and germs,’ they said.

         “They also said ‘no pets,’ but that’s not a worry now.”  Tom looked away.  “I still miss Crystal,” he murmured.  “She was such a sweet dog.”  He leaned forward toward Laura.  “I remember when you brought her back with you when you worked for the Red Cross in that flood disaster.  That little lost dog attached herself to you, and you couldn’t leave her.  Do you remember how surprised I was when you showed her to me?  She was all white with floppy ears and a very waggy tail.”  Tom smiled.  “After we gave her a real bath, her coat had a sparkly quality to it, ‘like sugar crystals,’ you said.  She went on all our walks and didn’t even need a leash.  Remember how people would say such nice things about her good manners?  Crystal was the center of our family for almost fifteen years.  No other dog could replace her.”  Tom looked down at Laura’s hand and caressed it.  He whispered, “Crystal was very special,” and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

         Tom cleared his throat and, in a cheerier tone, said, “You and Crystal got arthritis at about the same time.  I remember we joked about which one of you had arthritis and which one had sympathy pains.  Her medicine helped her more than yours helped you.  You had to give up walks, so you started swimming.  You loved it so much that you swam almost every day.  You would come back from your morning swims all energized.  It made you cheery, and that made Crystal and me eager to start the day with you.”  Tom smiled to himself.

         Laura’s limp arms lay on top of the blanket, penetrated and leashed by tubes.  More tubes and some wires snaked out from under her blanket.  Tom looked them over and slowly shook his head and pursed his lips. 

         “I know you miss your swimming.  You haven’t been able to go for the last few weeks.  In the mornings I keep expecting you to come through our front door, smiling and fresh from your swim.”  He paused.  “But you’re here.”  Tom looked up at the painted ceiling, the blue glow from the fluorescent lights casting it with a cold, metallic tint.  No windows allowed the warm autumn light to enter this space.

         “This is the sixteenth day I’ve come to see you here.”  Tom sighed.  “I know it’s past our agreement time but…”  Tom sniffed and then wiped his eyes and nose with a tissue from a nearby box.  He leaned on the bed to help himself rise from his chair, and he shuffled to the bank of machines on the wall.  He gave them a curious and critical look, friendly robots who blinked their lights back at him.

Tom took a slow, deep breath.  Then, one by one, he turned off each of the machines except for the heart monitor.  The humming, clicking, and whirring stopped.  The room was silent.  He looked at the heart monitor screen where its marching bright green line traced the strong, regular rhythm of Laura’s heartbeat.   He eased himself back down into his chair and took Laura’s hand in both of his.  He raised it to his lips and kissed it. 

Tom gazed toward her pillow.  “I see you, Laura,” he said, but his vision was too clouded by tears to see anything.  “I see you on a long autumn walk, arm in arm with me, the cool breezes tugging on your long dark hair and flushing your cheeks.  You’re kicking leaves out of our way with your dancer’s legs and laughing.  Your eyes sparkle when you look at me.   I see you.  I see you.”

          Laura lay still, a wisp under the light hospital blanket.  Tom lifted her hand to his wet cheek.

         “I love you, Laura.  I will always love you.  Always.”

The green line on the monitor staggered and shuffled across the screen, showing the weak and erratic pattern of Laura’s heartbeat.  Then the line was flat.

 

Bio: Clifford Hui is fully retired and writes fiction when he’s in the mood.  Some of his work has appeared in The Yolo Crow Literary Magazine, The Storyteller magazine, The Cynic Online Magazine, Fiction on the Web, The Green Silk Journal, Corner Club Press, and The Wandering Army.  When he’s not writing, his mood revolves around his collection of aloha shirts, his garden, and his Mainsqueeze.  He lives and writes in Concord, California.