The weight of one’s soul
The Azreal wasn’t one of those large super freighters, that’s commonly seen chugging across the Great Lakes of Michigan, but it was big enough. Her forward deck, where Jackson and Lilly had boarded the ship, was filled with large metal shipping containers, stacked three high. They followed Carol through the maze of containers, until they reached an open area. The night air was chilly, and Jackson could feel the mist of the Lake Superior washing across his face.
The Reaper led them to a metal hatchway door, with a large wheeled knob in its center and a small circular window above it, which she opened with ease, before disappearing into the bowels of the ship. They walked along a metal grated floor, going through another metal hatchway door. Metal stairs led them down to another deck, further below. Large pipes lined the ceiling of the narrow hallway, and the air seemed to become heavier. They went through another door, and down several more flights of stairs before coming to yet another metal door. Lilly noticed that this door in particular was different from the others. This door was solid in construction, with no visible knobs or windows. It just looked like a single piece of shiny stainless steel, except for an odd looking small hole, where the key hole should have been.
Carol placed the blood red ruby of her ring, into the hole, and the door slide open into the wall, revealing a medium sized room. On one side of the room were three desks, which were all occupied by two men and one woman. They all looked “ordinary” for it being a Reaper substation. They sat behind archaic computers, with large boxy monitors. Their faces bathed in the eerie green light of the past. Old phones, with an actual rotary dial, sat next to the computers, and were constantly ringing.
On the other side of the room was a large piece of equipment, which resembled an old phone switch board. Three people, two women, and one man, who all looked the same as the people behind the computers, sat in front of the switch board, with headsets on. There were numerous small holes in the switch board, and each hole had a small light above it. When a light flashed, the Operator would plug a wire, with what looked like a large head phone jack at the end, into the hole, answer the call, and then plug another wire into another hole.
At the far end of the room was a lone door, which Carol began to push Larry toward. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and just stared at the group, as they made their way across the room. After several, long, uncomfortable seconds, everyone returned to what they were doing, and paid them no further attention.
The door at the far end of the room, opened to a short, dead ended hall, with two doors on each side. Carol directed Larry to the door on the left. The room was a small twenty foot by twenty foot area, which was divided in two by a wall with a large glass window. Lilly could see that on the other side of the glass was a room about the same size as the one they were in. Its walls, floor, and ceiling where all white in color, and the room was very bright.
Carol took off Larry’s handcuffs, and pushed him through the wall, and into the second room. Larry immediately started to go crazy, as he frantically tried to find a way to escape, but for some reason he couldn’t pass back through the wall, or any of the other walls for that matter. Even the large glass window proved solid to the spirit, who could be seen pounding on it.
“What are you going to do with him?” Lilly asked, stepping up to the window and watching in her own horror fueled anxiety, as the trapped ghost desperately searched for a way out. Could this be her future, she wondered, if Jackson was unable to help her complete her unfinished business.
“Don’t worry Purg, you won’t end up in there, like ole Larry here,” Carol told her, as if she could read the ghost’s mind. The Reaper walked over to a small desk, which was placed in front of the window, and took a seat in the only chair. There was a microphone stand, with a small red button on its base. Next to the microphone stand was a small control panel with two buttons. One was black, and the other one was white.
“How do you know?” Lilly wondered.
“Because you’re a Purg, not a Bouncer,” the Reaper replied.
“You need to pretend like we don’t understand anything you’re talking about,” Jackson butted in. “We both know what a Purg is, but other than that this shit is all new to us.”
“Where would you like me to start?”
“How about with the whole Grim Reaper thing? How many of you are there?” Jackson asked, taking out a cigarette and lighting it.
“Jackson!” Lilly exclaimed. “You can’t smoke that in here.”
“Why not? You don’t have to worry about second hand smoke anymore, and I’m pretty sure neither does Death.”
“He’s right,” Carol stated, taking out a silver flask from the inside of her jacket pocket and taking a long drink.
“Can I get a hit of that?” Jackson asked.
Carol put the top back on the flask and stashed it back in her jacket. “The title of Death is held by many,” she began. “So many, that we have our own union. The rate that the human race kills itself is so vast that just having one Angel of Death”, she said, emphasizing the words Angel of Death with finger quotes, “is impossible. Even in the beginning. So, the business of Death was incorporated shortly after the crucifixion of Christ. Today, we have over ten thousand members, serving all Christian based countries.”
“Wow,” Jackson and Lilly both said at the same time.
“Yeah, and we’re still under staffed, but management keeps threatening us with budget cuts and furlough time. Go figure, right.”
“Wait, you just said the crucifixion of Christ?”
“And?” Carol replied.
“So, that means that God and the Devil are real? Heaven and Hell? Angels and Demons?” Jackson questioned.
“Yeah Demons are real,” Lilly answered. “I’ve met two already.”
“Everything you learned in Sunday school is real, for the most part, even though the majority of things aren’t actually depicted as they truly are, but we really don’t have time for that discussion, and by that I mean I really don’t want to have that discussion, besides I thought you would have figured that out by now, seeing how you can see the dead and all.”
“You told me that I wasn’t on your list. What did that mean?” Lilly asked, still feeling bad about Larry being trapped on the other side of the wall.
“Like any large cooperation, there are different departments, which are needed to fulfill all of the demands of the business. I’m in the retrieval department, and one of the senior Reapers on the SRT.”
“SRT?” Jackson asked.
“Soul Retrieval Team. Let me try to explain this in a way you’ll understand. There are five categories for a newly departed soul. You have those who automatically go up, and those who automatically go down. Those who need to have their souls weighed. And then you have the Purgs,” Carol commented, motioning toward Lilly. “They have normally led a good life, but never really did anything exceptional during their life span that guarantees them automatic entrance through the pearly gates. So, Heaven gives them only last test.”
“My unfinished business?” Lilly asked, although she already knew the answer.
“An almost impossible task, but a task that will allow you to prove your worth and ascend to paradise once completed. And then you have the Bouncers, like Larry here. Technically they are souls that need to be weighed. People like him live right on the edge. Picture a circle. Half of the circle is colored white, while the other half is colored red. Now, right where the two colors touch, is a thin, almost invisible gray line. People who live their lives there are the souls that need to be properly weighed in order to see where they are to be placed. Standard operating procedures dictate that a Reaper must be present at the soul’s TOD, to ensure that the weighing can be carried out, but sometimes Reapers can get behind schedule, and don’t show up on time, which is very bad.”
“When I died, I couldn’t go more than twenty feet from my body,” Lilly said, remembering the six months she spent tethered to her corporeal shell.
“You could have, if you really wanted to,” Carol declared. “That heavy sense of impending doom you felt, is a built in fail safe, designed to keep the spirit from wandering off, until they’ve been greeted by their Designated After Life Representative.”
“Which does what, exactly?” Jackson asked.
“They inform the Purg of their situation, and go over the ground rules. They then point them in the general direction of their quest.”
“I sat in the woods for six months. Six fucking months!” Lilly exclaimed, her voice rising with her temper. “Where was my representative?” she yelled, as the lights in the room flickered for a brief second. It happened so fast that it went unnoticed by all, except for one.
“I don’t know,” was the only thing Carol could offer, looking up to the lights. “Sometimes shit happens. Spirits get overlooked. The system is far from perfect, but we do the best we can.”
“Yeah, well that’s not good enough,” Lilly said, her voice still filled with anger.
Carol just stared at Lilly for a few seconds, unsure of what to say. What the young girl was saying wasn’t wrong. No spirit, should have been left out there for six months on their own, and left to guess what was happening. “The same sense of foreboding is there for those who need to be weighed, as well, but every once in a while, a spirit will run, especially if they’re desperate enough, or scared enough, before the Reaper can get there. We call those Bouncers, because they bounce before we can weigh them, and that’s where I come in.”
“This is crazy,” Jackson responded, taking the last drag from his cigarette and dropping the butt on to the ground, and putting it out with the tip of his shoe. Carol glared at Jackson, until he got the hint and picked up the cigarette butt and put it into his jacket pocket. “How did those handcuffs work on a ghost?”
“They are constructed from two layers of metal. The inner is iron, which is solid to the spirit world, and cause immense pain from prolonged contact. The outer layer is silver, which is another earthly metal, which has certain spiritual properties,” the Reaper answered, taking out her pair of handcuffs and tossing them to Jackson.
Jackson caught the cuffs and noticed that they were covered with weird looking runes. “What are these?” he asked, turning the handcuffs over and examining the other side, which looked a lot like the first side.
“They’re runes of incantations,” Carol replied.
“Incantations?” Lilly asked. “You mean magic?” she said the word magic with a heavy question mark.
“Exactly,” the Reaper answered.
“Hold the phone!” Jackson exclaimed. “You’re telling us that magic is real too, and we’re supposed to believe that?”
“Says the human hanging out with ghosts, and Reapers,” Carol responded.
“You got me there,” Jackson replied.
“What was that thing you used on Larry? It looked like a Taser,” Jackson asked.
“That’s exactly what it was,” Carol replied. “But ours are specifically designed to work on the ethereal. The barbed prongs that shoot out of the cartridge are iron, and instead of an electrical current, our Tasers emit an electromagnetic pulse, which as you saw firsthand, immobilizes the ghost. I’m not sure of the exact science behind it. Our R&D branch thinks up the toys, I just use them.”
Jackson started to ask another question, but was silenced by Carol, who turned to face the window. “Enough of the gab session, gotta get back to work.”
Lilly looked into the room on the other side of the glass, and saw Larry in one of the corners clawing at the walls in a desperate attempt to free himself. Carol adjusted the microphone in front of her and pushed the red button. “Mr. Finton, can you hear me? Please step into the center of the room”
If Larry could, he didn’t acknowledge the Reaper. He just continued to claw at the wall, and moan as if he was in tremendous pain.
“Mr. Finton, it time to weigh your soul.”
The ghost snapped his head around at an impossible angle for anyone living, and glared at Carol, with red eyes and wicked looking teeth. “Is that normal?” Jackson asked, stepping up to the window to get a better look.
“Unfortunately,” the Reaper responded. “Ever hear of a poltergeist? That’s what happens to some spirits the longer they stay behind. They get angry, and develop a real hatred for the living, which can lead to what happened back at the séance.”
“Will those kind of things effect his overall outcome?” Lilly asked.
“No, he will only be weighed on the things he did when he was alive,” Carol answered. “If the scales are in his favor, his…condition will be rectified, before his transition takes place.”
“How does the actions of ones after life effect someone like me?” Lilly asked, thinking of Sebastian. The things she witnessed him do were truly disturbing, given the fact that they were done by such a young child.
“To a Purg, completing your unfinished business is your greatest test. And like any test you will be graded on your performance, as well as other factors. The way you pass the test is just as important as the test itself. It can make the difference in if you go up or down.” Carol answered, which gave Lilly a lot to think about. “Mr. Finton, this is your last warning. Please move to the center of the room.” Carol pressed the black button on the control panel, and an outline of a small black circle, just big enough for someone to stand in, appeared in the center of the white floor.
Larry spun around with an unnatural speed and launched himself at the window. Lilly screamed, as the ghost slammed into the glass, but bounced harmlessly off it. “Fuck you bitch!” he screamed, picking himself up off of the ground and slamming into it again, hoping that the outcome would be different from the first. It wasn’t.
“Fine,” Carol said, pushing the button on the microphone. “Have it your way,” she added, pressing the black button on the control panel again. Everything that had been white in the room, which had been everything, except for the black circle, turned black, while the black circle turned white. Larry screamed in pain, and began to run frantically around the room, but everywhere he went, the pain remained, and the longer he stayed in the black, the more the pain seemed to intensify. “Please step into the center of the room,” the Reaper said again.
Larry looked to the white circle in the middle of the black floor. He began to shake his head violently back and forth. “NO! NEVER!”
“Is this absolutely necessary?” Jackson asked. “You’re hurting him. Can’t you put the cuffs back on him or something. He seemed to be under control when he had them on.”
“The incantations on the cuffs do keep them docile, but he has to be weighed, and only him. The handcuffs could be seen as added weight, which could sway the outcome,” Carol told him. “And once the handcuffs come off you get this,” she added, pointing to Larry, who was now standing in front of the glass, and slamming his head into it over and over. “So, unless you want to go in there and put him inside of the circle…?”
Jackson didn’t say a word. He didn’t like the idea of seeing the ghost being tortured like he was, but knew what would happen to him if he walked into the room, as the images of what Larry had done to his own brother surfaced in his mind.
Carol pushed the black button, and it seemed that the blackness of the room increased, if that sort of thing was even possible, while the white circle became almost blinding. Larry screamed at the top of his lungs. He grabbed at his head, as if he was trying to pull the hair from his skull. He looked to the white circle of light in the center of the room, and after several long, agonizing moments, he began to stagger toward it. After a few labored steps, the ghost of Larry Finton was ready to have his soul finally weighed.
As soon as Larry stepped into the light, his horrifying screams ceased. The maddening noise that had filled his head for so many years faded. The insanity that had fogged his vison, cleared, bringing his mind back from the outer fringes of madness. “What have I done?” he asked, lowering his head. But the statement wasn’t really a question meant for those who could hear him. Larry could remember everything that he had done, he couldn’t explain why he did some of the things he did, but he knew what he had done. “Barry…”
“Mr. Finton,” Carol’s voice cut through the awkwardness that had fallen upon the room, startling both Jackson, and Lilly.
Larry looked up and met the gaze of the Reaper, and knew that there would be no more running, and in a way he was more than relieved. He exhaled a deep breath. “I’m ready,” he said, nodding his head.
Carol pushed the white button on the control panel. At first nothing happened. Larry looked about the room in anticipation, as did Lilly and Jackson. The white circle of light began to blink in and out of existence. The cycle was slow at first, but the longer Barry stood in the circle the faster the cycle became. Flashing over and over and over. This continued on for several minutes, before the white circle became as red as the blood that had sprayed from his brother’s throat.
The spirit of Larry Finton burst into flames, but before a single scream could escape his fiery lips, his body exploded into tiny embers, which flickered ever so briefly, before fading from existence. “The scales have spoken,” Carol said, pressing the black button again, and casting the room on the other side of the glass into total darkness.
“So,…he went…” Jackson began to inquire.
“Yep,” the Reaper answered. “Why were you two even at that séance to begin with? I know you took that other Purg there, but the living and the dead don’t usually hang out together.”
“Like I said before, Jackson’s helping me with my unfinished business,” Lilly told her.
“Like he did with the other Purg?”
“His name was Joshua,” Lilly replied. The word Purg, was starting to sound more and more offensive to her the more she was referred to as being one. “But yes. Only…my situation is a little more…”
“Fucked up,” Jackson stated.
“How’s that?” Carol asked, who was starting to get the feeling that there was something more going on than just needing to pass on a simple message to the young girl’s loved ones.
“I didn’t die from natural causes,” Lilly told the Reaper. “I was murdered and buried in the woods, and in order for me to pass over I have to bring my killer to justice. I have to make him pay for what he did to me, and the others.”
“That’s why we’re here in Sault Ste. Marie,” Jackson explained. “Lilly is this guy’s fifth victim.”
“His first was still at his house when I got there, and she said that all five of us have the same unfinished business, and that we all needed to be there, because those who weren’t wouldn’t be able to cross over when the time comes,” Lilly stated.
“Technically, I guess that would be accurate. If you complete your unfinished business and the others don’t, they would be trapped in Purgatory forever,” Carol informed them. “Talk about an impossible task.”
“Why is that?” Lilly asked.
“Because the spirt world is not meant to interact with the living world. That’s why nobody can see or hear you. That’s also why hardly any Purgs ever cross over.”
“But I can see and hear her,” Jackson pointed out.
“I guess you can,” the Reaper said.
“I’ve also already helped two Pur…spirits cross over. One that you were a witness to.”
“That you did,” Carol agreed. “And I must say that I was pretty impressed with that.”
“Not so impossible now, huh?” Lilly asked, with a smug look on her face.
“So what’s you plan?” the Reaper asked.
Jackson and Lilly looked at each other with blank expressions, as the Reaper began to laugh out loud. “I admire your guys’ gumption, but for something like this to work, you need to have some kind of plan.”
“And we’ll have one when the time comes,” Jackson promised.
“Yeah,” Lilly argued, still wearing her smug expression. “We just need to find the others first.”
“Well, I wish you both the best of luck,” Carol offered, getting up from the desk. “And just so you know,” she said, her words directed at Jackson. “You just can’t walk up to him and put a bullet in his head, and expect everyone to live happily ever after.”
“I…I wasn’t planning on it,” Jackson replied, wondering if the Reaper knew about the conversation he and Lilly had had, back at Mark Karle’s house.
“Good, because killing him will only hurt your soul in the end, if you know what I mean,” Carol told him. While she hadn’t come out and said it, Jackson felt that she was telling him where his soul would end up if he just went up and murdered Lilly’s killer.
“What about self-defense?” Lilly asked, having the same feeling that Jackson was having.
“Self-defense is one of those tricky gray areas,” Carol warned them. “If it happens naturally, then you’re golden. But if you go in to that situation with a gun, thinking that if you get into a fight, you can just pull out your gun and “bang”, then you’re technically trying to use the act of self-defense to justify a murder, and our scales will know that. And if you’re truly Jackson’s friend, which I think you two have become, I don’t think you would really want him to jeopardize his enteral ever after on such a technicality, now do you?”
“No, I would never,” Lilly answered.
“I just wanna make sure that you’re all on the same page,” Carol told them. “It’s not really my place to be giving advise like that. I’m supposed to remain impartial, but I really hate seeing people do stupid things, and having their souls damned, when they don’t have to.”
“We appreciate the advice,” Jackson offered, extending his hand toward the Reaper, who just stared at it, until Jackson retracted it.
“Follow me,” Carol told them, as she quickly left the room, and walked over to one of the antique computer stations. “Kenny, say hello to Jackson and Lilly.”
“Hello,” the man said nervously. He was a scrawny type of fellow, with dark, greasy hair, and thick glasses.
“Kenny here is one of our locators, and a damn good one at that. He’s the one who gave me the tip on Larry,” Carol said, giving the scrawny man a fist bump. “What’s the name of the Purg your looking for?”
“Jessica Watkins,” Lilly said, as she watched Kenny type out the name on his keyboard. The green monitor hummed to life, as the girl’s name appeared on the screen in yellow, followed by a long list of information. Carol grabbed a small piece of paper off of the desk and scribbled something down on it.
“Here,” she said, handing the piece of paper to Jackson.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“That’s where you’ll find your Purg,” the Reaper answered. “Here, take this too,” she said, handing him one of her business cards, that just had a phone number printed on one side.
“Thanks, but I don’t have a phone at the moment,” Jackson told the her.
“Jesus Christ,” Carol said, snatching the piece of paper out of Jackson’s hand. “Give me a burner,” she told Kenny, who started to rummage through one of his desk drawers.
Kenny pulled out a brand new cell phone and handed it to Carol, who activated one of the preloaded apps. “Here,” she said, handing the phone to Jackson. “I imputed your Purg’s location. Just follow the directions.”