by Ian Creasey
"But I was going to put the money back," I said.
The angel's stern gaze lacerated me. "It is too late now," he said, his voice resonant as church bells. "Your fate is sealed. You should have redeemed your sins while you could."
"That's easy for you to say," I said, hating the angel's smug superiority. "What the hell would you know about needing money to pay the hospital?"
"Or the liquor store?" the angel said with poisonous condescension.
"A man needs to drown his troubles once in a while," I mumbled. I tried to remember a justifying Bible verse -- 'no better thing', or somesuch -- but it eluded me, slipping away like my final breaths.
"Eliot Michael Ingersoll, you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting." As the angel spoke, his grave yet youthful face brightened with a radiance painful to look upon.
I felt myself falling.
"Is that it?" I struggled to speak through visceral panic. "I'm not going to be judged by a heavenly intern. I demand to see Saint Peter!"
"His time is occupied with more deserving cases," the angel said, looking down upon me as I fell. "If you have difficulty accepting the judgment --"
"I can appeal?" I said, suddenly filled with hope.
"-- counselling is available." The angel's voice sounded like distant windchimes, coming from a single star high above.
"Counselling?" I couldn't accept death as just another trauma, like being fired or seeing something nasty in the woodshed. But I clutched at anything to delay what surely awaited me below. "Yes, give me counselling, please."
Still I kept falling. As I tried to nerve myself to look down, I came to a jarring halt.
I found myself sitting in a large leather armchair. Around me I saw a room painted a bland shade of yellow, with a clock on one wall and diplomas on another. In front of me, a tall red-haired woman sat at a desk.
"Hello Eliot," she said, in a warm soothing voice. "I'm Desdemona, and I'll be helping you work through your issues. Tell me, how do you feel about being damned?"
I shifted position on the chair as I struggled to take in the scene. The counselor waited patiently for me to answer.
"Outraged," I said at last. "I was cut off without warning, before I had chance to put things right. I mean, at least Scrooge got tipped off by the ghosts of Christmas."
Desdemona nodded, and made notes with a fountain pen. "It sounds like you have a lot of anger to explore. We'll get to that. What else are you feeling?"
The familiar drone of psychobabble relaxed me a little, although I still couldn't find a comfortable position in the armchair. "Scared," I admitted.
"And what is it that most scares you about Hell?" said Desdemona, her pen poised.
I was about to say, "Hellfire, of course," but I paused for a moment, not wanting to be caught in a trap. I didn't want to describe all the tortures I most feared, only to have them noted down for future use. Instead I said, "Eternity."
The word hung in the air like an evil smell, as Desdemona waited for me to elaborate.
"Centuries, millennia, eons -- how long does the hellfire burn? There's a story about a crow who takes one peck at a mountain every thousand years. When the mountain has worn down to the ground, that's just the first tick of eternity...."
I looked at the clock, and shivered. It seemed to have entirely too many hands.
"Am I being charged by the hour?" I asked, trying to break the tension.
Desdemona made another note. "Do you think your emotional attachment to money might be a substitute for something?"
"You tell me," I said, exasperated. "You're the expert counselor." I gestured at the diplomas on the wall, the bookshelves behind me.
Then I froze, realizing I had seen everything in the room. Counselor
and desk, diplomas and books, armchair and clock... but no door.
Ian Creasey was born in 1969 and lives in Yorkshire, England. He started writing when rock 'n' roll stardom failed to return his calls. His stories have appeared in Oceans of the Mind, Paradox, The Mammoth Book of Legal Thrillers, Gothic.Net and elsewhere. His hobbies include gardening, hiking, and environmental conservation -- anything to get him outside and away from the computer screen.
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"Waiting for the Long Shrink" © Ian Creasey. Used
by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick © Karen A. Romanko. Masthead Clipart by Corel®.