Soul Survivors (6200 words)

Soul Survivors

© David Bowlin

(for JiniG)

1

A thousand voices screamed at Daniel, a thousand tormented, lost souls begged for release, escape, death.  What he was suppose to do to help these agonized souls he didn’t know, so he did nothing but whimper in his sleep, and roll over.  A solitary tear escaped his tightly closed eyes and trekked down his face, spilling and dissolving on his pillow.

Night slowly bled into day, and with the bright sunlight came new hope – hope that the screams of the damned would not come again that night.

But they were going to, and eight-year-old Daniel Brate knew it.

 

2

“…don’t understand how a child can know such things.”  Amazement washed over the old priest’s face and his hands had begun to shake.  “I mean, he’s just a child, surely no older than ten?”

Evelyn sighed and her shoulders sagged.  She already knew what was coming; she had been through all this a hundred times before.

“Yes, Father, he’s ten.  And no, I’m not into Satanism, my husband’s not a member of the occult, Daniel doesn’t read books or watch movies about demons or murders or cattle mutilations.  He’s just a little boy, and I’m sure it was a mistake coming here.  I’m sorry, Father, to have wasted your time.”

Evelyn got up to leave, but the priest’s cold hands grabbed her wrists and pulled her back down.  For such an old man, she thought, his grip was firm and final.  She started to protest, but when she looked into the careworn old eyes the words lost themselves somewhere between her brain and her mouth.  He was sweating now, though the room was a chilling sixty-five degrees.  Church basements were always cold, no matter what the outside thermometers read.  Cold and damp.

“You’ve got to listen to me,” the priest whispered.  His urgent voice, the tone of his words arrested Evelyn, and she stared at the priest anew.  “Your son spoke of Accleus.  My god, my Savior… he knows the name!”

A cold sweat broke out on Evelyn’s forehead, a sweat of dread and fear and pain.  She didn’t know why this name was so shocking to the old priest, but it was clear that it meant something – and that whatever it was, that something was very bad indeed.

She swallowed hard, and although she feared to hear the answer, forced the words to come.  “Father Billingsly, what is Accleus, and why didn’t any of the other thirteen doctors and priests react to this name the way you have?  Is my son in danger?” The icy finger of dread slithered its way up her spine as the priest stared, awestruck, toward the heavens.  Evelyn started to speak again, but the priest’s actions stopped her.

Father Billingsly made the sign of the cross across his chest, and wouldn’t speak until Evelyn did the same.  With his eyes tightly shut, he whispered a prayer of strength and guidance.

Through a shaky, uneven voice, the priest finally spoke.  “Daughter, your son claims to have spoken to Accleus.  Mrs. Brate, Accleus was the last angel to be thrown out of Heaven by God Himself.”

“But surely if this is in the Bible, the other priests would have recognized the name, Father?”

The old man shivered as cold sweat ran down his spine.  His blood felt like ice running through his veins, his heart like a beating drum sounding impending doom.

“Daughter.  Evelyn.  The name ‘Accleus’ isn’t mentioned in the Bible.  It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the world except one place.  Underneath the Vatican there are chambers and tunnels far older than Rome itself.  Within these earthen halls there are tomes of forgotten knowledge, books and scrolls and parchment that contain records of the fall of the Heavenly Host, of the battles that raged in Heaven, of the pride and collapse of Lucifer and his host.  These scrolls are long forgotten, and weren’t believed by even our most ancient forefathers.  They were left out of the Bible for a reason, Daughter.  They are too gruesome, too cruel to be included, or even spoken of.” Swallowing hard, the old man continued.  “I have a fascination with Church history, and have read through some of them, by special arrangement of the Pope, God bless and keep him.  I have had… reasons of my own to study these old scrolls.”

Again, Father Billingsly wiped the sweat off his face before continuing.  “These crumbling writings speak of this Accleus, but not a single good word is to be found about him.  Everything that I’ve read which mentions this name is full of sorrow, of pain and death and mystery.  He was rejected by God, but not by Him alone.  It is written that even Lucifer himself denounced Accleus.  I cannot speak of it further!  I must contact the Vatican in this matter, Daughter.”

The old man rose to leave, but Evelyn’s grip was even firmer than the priest’s had been.  Hers had the fear of a mother behind it.

“Tell me, Father, I demand it!”  Evelyn’s face was a mask of fear and worry and determination.  “Who or what is this Accleus?”

The priest’s tired, old eyes faded from a stormy blue to a cold, fearful gray.  When he spoke, his voice was trembling with fear.  “Accleus, Daughter, is the angel of death, the stealer of souls.”

— Break —

By claiming that contacting the Vatican would break the priest’s sacred vow of silence, Evelyn got the old man’s solemn word that he would tell no one about the nightmares which plagued her son’s sleep each and every night.  She wasn’t ready to accept all that the Father had told her, and would never allow her son to be the center of a religious study.  Why should she subject her son to religious scrutiny when she herself wasn’t sure if she believed in God?

Five years later Daniel and the priest met again.

 

3

Daniel sat alone during lunch.  He didn’t mind, really – he was quite used to it.  He had always sat alone, and after the first few years he actually preferred his solitary company to that of most of the new kids who invariably sat by him for their first few days at a new school. When they started making friends and heard the rumors about him, they would stay well clear of him, just like everyone else.

It was much easier not to let anyone get close than to think you’ve made a friend only to realize they’re the same as everyone else.  Everyone who thinks you’re a freak.

While the other kids played baseball or skipped rope, Daniel sat in his customary spot under a large maple tree and read a comic.  He read From Beyond every day, his favorite comic in the world because it always ended with the heroes dying.  To Daniel, who was used to living in his own private hell in the form of horrible nightmares, dying was a part of each day.

As he finished his banana and looked up to toss the peeling into his brown paper lunch bag, his eyes flitted over that of an old man leaning against the school perimeter fence.  He looked vaguely familiar, but the comic book was more gruesome than usual, so he bent his head back to it, ignoring the old man and soon forgetting all about him.

The bell sounded, and Daniel rose to leave, heading back to the school building and math class.  Daniel loved math class; in a strange and chaotic world, math made sense, brought order and discipline.  Math was science, and in science there were no nightmares, no demons, no fear  – only the cold hard facts.

Just as he reached the top step to the school entrance, Daniel remembered the old man standing by the fence, and so he glanced back.  Standing there like a statue, the withered old priest stood with his sad eyes, stood there staring at Daniel with his drooping Fedora, wrinkled chin and all.

Daniel flipped him the bird and went to math class.

 

4

Soon after the bell sounded for school to be over for the week, Daniel emerged into the shadowy gloom of Maple Street.  He walked swiftly away, heading home.  No one followed him, no companion trotted along beside him.  He walked alone, as he did every day.  He was used to it.

The old priest watched Daniel leave the school, then turned and started to walk back to his car, but halted.  His mind was full of pain, worry, and the unrelenting screams of the damned.  With a sudden chill running up his spine, he looked back and caught a last glimpse of Daniel as he turned a corner and out of sight.  Sighing heavily, just as the first drops of rain pelted down from the graying sky, he turned and slowly started walking in the direction that Daniel had gone.

 

Splashing rain and sizzling lightning bolts accompanied Daniel on his half-mile walk home.  Silently he cursed the rain, hated the lightning, though he couldn’t have said why.  Perhaps it reminded him of his friendless, solitary life:  stormy, thunderous, and lonely.

As he rounded the last street corner before coming to the crosswalk in front of his house, Daniel’s mind wheeled, reeled, and came to a blinding stop.  There, sitting on top of a now dimly lit street light, was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen:  the golden eyes shown brighter than the sun on a hot August day; the fiery red hair was the purest essence of silk; the wings majestic in their soft whiteness.  Dressed as for an ancient battle, the creature clutched a gleaming sword in its hands, hands so huge and powerful the very light of the street lamp seemed to seep into them – not on them, but actually into them.

Daniel’s expensive leather backpack slipped from his hands and landed with a splash beside the road a split second before the car’s screeching, screaming brakes jolted him back to reality.

Sprawled face down on the pavement, rain pelting his eyes and his bleeding, broken nose, Daniel strained to look up at the street light across the wet road.  The creature, whatever it had been, was gone.

With a soul-wrenching cry of pain and fear and longing and hatred, Daniel slipped into the blinding darkness of a coma.

 

5

The darkness was so complete, so utterly black that it seemed more tangible than simply an absence of light.  Wherever he turned, the blackness was unbroken.  Daniel stretched out his hands, and moved around in a circle, feeling for a wall, a door, another person, anything.

He felt nothing but the blackness.  Yet, he knew he wasn’t alone, for the screams of millions of anguished, tormented souls seared his heart and his mind.

I’m dead, he thought.  I’m really dead.

This thought didn’t bother him, however.  Instead, he was filled with relief.  No more nightmares, no more waiting or wondering.  He was dead, and now the real nightmare had begun.  Tears of relief trickled down his face, and his voice joined with the countless others screaming into the blackness.

 

6

Daniel screamed for what seemed to him an eternity.  Voices came closer, and faded away, all screaming with unfathomable pain, ultimate misery.  Each voice was distinct from the others, yet that cry of anguish was the same.  Only Daniel’s voice wasn’t filled with anguish, but with relief.

The cry of relief didn’t go unnoticed amongst the tormented screams of the damned, and it was this voice of relief that caught the attention of the two men.

 

7

A dim glow from behind Daniel cast his shadow in front of him.  Though the shadow was long, it was eerily realistic; it seemed to cringe from the light that had created it, almost as if it feared the source of it.  Daniel noticed this, but wasn’t alarmed by it.  Rather, it intrigued him, and his screams died away.

Suddenly, the screaming of the damned withdrew and faded as if whomever was screaming was running away from the light as well.

Breaking his gaze from his cringing shadow, Daniel turned to find the source of the dim light in this ocean of blackness.  

Daniel turned – and came face to face with two middle-aged men..

His shock at seeing another person in all the blackness was total.  He tried to speak, but couldn’t remember how.  He tried to run, but his legs wouldn’t work.  He tried to reason, but his mind was a complete blank.  He just stared, his mouth hanging open, looking from one man to the other.  

The taller of the two men smiled, and for the first time in his life (death?), Daniel knew peace.  His heart melted, his fears were allayed, his soul felt lighter than air.  He wanted to cry, wanted to scream again, wanted to run and shout and skip.  He knew peace in his tormented soul for the first time.

The other man, slightly broader of build than the smiling one, simply looked at Daniel with curiosity washed over his features.  He spoke first, and his voice was soothing, yet a bit gravelly.  Like a door hinge, Daniel thought.

“Who are you, child?”  The eyes never left Daniel’s own.

Slowly, as if trying to speak for the first time, Daniel answered the deeply tanned man.  “I, I’m Daniel Brate, Sir.”

The two strangers exchanged a puzzled glance, then stared at Daniel again.

“Daniel Brate?  I don’t have any record of a Daniel Brate.”

A record?  thought Daniel.  What does that mean? A record of what?

“Nor I,” said the taller man, his eyes the very essence of peace and love.  “Hmm, tell me, Daniel, how did you get here?”

This caught Daniel entirely by surprise, and he didn’t know how to answer.  After a few awkward seconds, he just shrugged his shoulders and lowered his head.

“I don’t know, Sir,” he said, “but I don’t want to go back.”

The shock on the faces of the two men was complete.  Nothing Daniel could have said could have surprised them more, and now it was their turn to be silent for a moment.  The two men glanced at each other again, and then the one with the grating, oily voice spoke to the other in a language Daniel had never heard before.  It was a silky language, full of softly soothing rhythms and musical tones.  If French was the language of love, Daniel thought, then this language, whatever it was, was surely the language of the spirit.

The two men stopped talking, and looked back at Daniel.  He met their stare unwaveringly, determined to show no fear.

With a heart-melting smile, the taller man started speaking in his soft voice.  “Perhaps we should introduce ourselves.  My name is Jesus, and this is my uh, my friend, Lucifer.”

Lucifer tilted his head in a ‘pleased to meet you’ fashion, and extended his hand in greeting.  Daniel’s mind was racing at full speed, but he automatically shook hands with the other man without even thinking about it.  Jesus? he thought.  Lucifer?  What the hell…

“Now,” said Jesus, “we all know each other.  To business!”  His smile broadened, his white teeth sparkling with a light of their own.  “You said you don’t know how you got here. Well, since this is the Between Life, your physical body should be dead, but I have no record of it.  Strange…”

The walk home from school, the rain, the beautiful creature sitting on top of the light pole, the brake-screeching car all washed over Daniel like a tidal wave.   He began to tremble, his bottom lip quivered, and before he could stop them, tears brimmed over his eyes and fell into the darkness.

Daniel told the two men about his walk home from school, about seeing the creature just before the car struck him.  He talked through his tears, he told them about the nightmares he had been plagued with his whole life, about how lonely he was, and that he didn’t want to go back to that life.  He would rather stay here in the midst of the screaming souls, for at least here he knew they were real.

“And, and then there’s this guy who visits my dreams a lot,” Daniel panted.  “He says he’s the only one that can help me, but that I’ll have to kill myself before he can.  He says his name is Accleus.  I think he causes the nightmares.  I think he hates me.”

The sudden surprise on the faces of Jesus and Lucifer at the mention of Accleus left the two men momentarily speechless.  Lucifer fell to his knees with a dull thud, and Jesus grabbed Daniel painfully by the arms.  The compassion was gone from his face, replaced by an intensity that made Daniel cringe.

“Accleus?  Accleus visits your dreams?”  Jesus was literally screaming in Daniel’s face, spittle flying.

Daniel let out a loud scream of fear, and immediately Jesus released him, peace and love once again showing on his face.

“I’m sorry, Daniel.  I didn’t mean to frighten you.  Did you say Accleus?  Are you sure that’s the being who visits your dreams?”

A little shaken, Daniel shook his head.  “Th, that’s it, Sir, I’m sure of it.  That was the first word I ever learned to speak.  My mother has told me that a hundred times.  I’ve never seen Accleus, Sir, but he whispers to me in my dreams.”

Jesus put his head down, staring at the blackness beneath him, deep in thought.  Lucifer kept staring at Daniel, unspeaking.  Daniel, still nervous about the reaction this name had caused, took a step backward.

Finally, Jesus looked up.  “Daniel,” he said, “we need your help.”

 

8

The beauty that surrounded Daniel was beyond words or imagination.  The trees, the flowers!  The colors themselves were beyond comprehension.  A river ran through the midst of this garden, and though he couldn’t explain it, Daniel knew that the river had a life of its own.  It emanated life, caressed his soul with a pure and untainted love.  The river was love, was peace.  He ached to bathe in it, to feel it washing over his body, cleansing him of all the pain and hurt and anger of his life.

The greenness of the grass was fantastic.  It was the very essence of greenness itself, the source for all things green in the world.  It was soft as cotton, smoother than silk, and he couldn’t help but run his hands through it yet again.

Never in his life had Daniel felt so utterly content, so at peace.  A path made of the finest gold ran through the middle of the garden, a gold so pure it radiated a light of its own.  A soft breeze tousled his hair and brought with it a thousand smells that simply overtook the brain’s ability to fathom each of them.  People everywhere lounging in the garden, some bathing the lively river, others reading poetry to each other under majestic, perfectly shaped trees.

Heaven.

The word finally settled in Daniel’s mind.  “This is Heaven, Daniel,” Jesus repeated.  “This is where the souls of everyone should be.”

“Should be?  But, but… but Heaven is a myth, isn’t it? A… a fairytale…” Even as he spoke, Daniel realized that no, Heaven was not a myth, because here he was, standing in it.

Chuckling, Lucifer answered.  “No, not a myth, Daniel.  It’s real.”  He sighed, bent, and picked the most beautiful rose Daniel had ever seen from a lush, perfect bush.  Immediately, another grew in its place.

“This is Heaven, Daniel, but not all souls make it this far.  Some are trapped.  They get lost on their way here; or more specifically, they’re stolen.”  He crushed the rose in his hands, and the fragrance was enough to cause Daniel’s head to spin.  Anger flashed in Lucifer’s eyes, and the rose vanished.

A small child ran up to Jesus, and jumped into his arms.  He hugged the child fiercely, placed a kiss on top of her little head.  Giggling, she jumped down and ran back through the garden.  The absolute love of that simple act broke Daniel’s spirit, and he felt the hot sting of tears yet again.

Sighing, Jesus looked at Daniel.  “You see, when people die their souls should come here where they can enjoy eternal life, and all the beauty of Heaven.  Most of them make it eventually, but some don’t.  Those that die prematurely are caught in Between Life.  That’s where you were, in the domain of Accleus.  He is the stealer of souls.”

“But, why can’t you just bring them here, like you did me?”

“I wish we could, but there’s a difference.  You, Daniel, are not dead.  They are.”

Lucifer looked at Daniel, and explained further.  “When people die, Daniel, they have to go through a time of… cleansing.  And that’s my job.”  A light flickered momentarily in Lucifer’s eyes, and Daniel’s blood ran cold.

Suddenly, Heaven vanished, and Daniel found himself in a large, overcrowded factory.  People everywhere were washing filthy, disgustingly dirty clothes by hand, scrubbing grimy, nasty floors, sweating and working harder than anyone Daniel had ever seen.

Aghast at this sudden change, Daniel yelled.  “What’re they all doing?”

Smiling for the first time, Lucifer responded.  “Well, they’re washing and scrubbing away all the evil that they did during their lives.  They can’t leave here for Heaven until they are perfectly clean.  It takes a little time, but once they’ve managed to cleanse all the wrong that they did during their lives, they earn their right to get into Heaven.”  Lucifer sighed, obviously pleased with himself.  “Sometimes,” he said in a whisper, “it takes them years!”

Daniel shivered involuntarily as the thought of spending a few minutes, let alone years, in this… this… well, this hell.  He looked up at Jesus, and was a bit surprised to see tears forming in his eyes as he watched to souls of the damned slaving away, earning their right to enter Heaven.

“Look.”  Lucifer was pointing to a long staircase at the end of the room.  It was guarded by two ferocious monstrosities that somewhat resembled wolves.  Sharp teeth dripped with saliva, and the growls of these animals made the hair on the back of Daniel’s head stand on end.

“Wh, what’re those?” he stammered.

“That’s the Stairway to Heaven,” Jesus answered, clearing his voice of emotion.  “Once the souls are cleansed, they can safely pass through the Guardians.”

“What happens if a soul tries to go up the Stairway before being cleansed?”  Daniel shuttered to think of those fangs sinking into his flesh.

Lucifer laughed out loud.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “No one has ever been foolish enough to try.”

Jesus and Lucifer looked at Daniel, and the next moment they were all three back in Between Life.  The screams of the damned were faint, but still there, still agonized and tormented.

“But what can I do to help?”  The screams of the tormented souls seemed more anguished than ever, and he ached to release them from this tormenting blackness.

Again, Jesus and Lucifer looked at one another before answering him.  Finally, Lucifer spoke.  His voice was low and conspiratorial.

“You have to face Accleus, Daniel.  You have to face him and give yourself willingly to him.”

Shock and fear seized Daniel, and he fell backwards.  Neither Jesus nor Lucifer offered to help him up.

“What!” Daniel screamed.  “What! You want me to give myself to the angel of death?  Are you crazy?”

Jesus spoke, but his voice was filled with an ache that Daniel couldn’t quite grasp.  “It’s the only way, Daniel.  It’s the only way.”  He sighed, and hunched down, facing Daniel squarely.  “It is Written that the only way the angel of death can be defeated is by someone that isn’t dead to offer himself to him freely.”

“What would happen to me?  What would happen to all these souls then?”  Daniel’s breath was coming in short, gasping wheezes.

Lucifer’s hard, cold eyes bore into Daniel’s own.  “The souls trapped in this Between Life would be freed, Daniel.  The souls would be freed to pay for their earthly sins, and eventually enter into Heaven’s paradise.”  Lucifer’s unwavering stare went beyond Daniel, focused on something Daniel couldn’t see or even begin to understand.  When he continued, his voice was low and gravelly, the raw hatred burning through as easily as a candle would burn dry paper.  “And Accleus, oh… oh, that traitor Accleus would suffer…  He’ll join me in Hell!”

Tears streamed down Daniel’s face, and he thought his heart would burst from fear.  “But what about m-me?  What would happen to me?”

“You become the new angel of death,” Jesus said without emotion.

 

9

The rain was falling in torrents, the lightning crashing its electric fingers all around the crowd huddled around the still, bleeding body of Daniel Brate.  Thunder continued to rent the air with the storm’s fury.  Someone was holding a cellular phone, trying to get the emergency operator to understand through the static that an ambulance was needed, and fast.

An old man who had seen the accident was busy unloading his lunch into the filth of the rain-washed gutter.  The driver of the car that struck Daniel was in hysterics, swearing to anyone who would listen that “the kid just stepped right out in front of me, I sear to god, oh Christ, oh god I swear he did!”

At the sound of the screeching brakes and the dull thud that followed, the priest had ran as hard as he could, somehow knowing what had happened even before he saw the broken body bleeding its life away in the slick street.

“Let me through, I’m a priest!  For the soul’s sake, let me through!”  Shoving anyone and everyone out of his way, the old minister bent close to Daniel’s body, listening for any sign of breathing.  Very shallow, halting breaths escaped and entered Daniel’s shattered mouth.  Without thinking, more out of habit than anything else, the priest grabbed the rosary from around his neck and made the sign of the cross on Daniel’s chest.  “In the name of God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” he whispered.  After brushing the rosary with a quick kiss, he tossed it aside like a used napkin, where the pelting rain washed it down the street, out of sight.

At long last, the sound of the approaching ambulance could be heard over the fury of the storm.  Suddenly, the priest knew what he had to do.

Reaching into the pocket of his overcoat, he grabbed the large bottle of sleeping pills and ripped the cap off.  With a fast, whispered “forgive me, Lord,” the tired, red-eyed priest turned the bottle up and swallowed every single pill.  Just as the ambulance pulled to a stop in front of the parting crowd, the old minister fell on top of Daniel’s dying body, now dying himself.

 

10

Daniel stared at his two ethereal companions in horror as their words began to sink into his mind.  He didn’t know what to say or do, wasn’t even sure he could have spoken if he tried.  The blackness that surrounded him seemed to grow even thicker, as if it was trying to invade his soul.

“Daniel,” Jesus said, “I realize that we’re asking a lot of you, but it’s the only way.  The angel of death’s job isn’t so bad, really…”  The words trailed off as Jesus realized how it must sound.  His face turned a soft pink, and he averted his eyes, looking at Lucifer for support.

“Um, well, yes,” Lucifer stammered.  “Um, you see, Daniel, Accleus has rather enjoyed his job a bit much, really.  It’s, uh, it’s not suppose to be like that; he’s suppose to collect the dead, and guide them to the After Life.  Instead, he steals souls that get lost on their way there, and they’re trapped here in this… this Between Life.”  Lucifer’s hands swept around him in a large circle.  The screams of the lost souls of the dead momentarily grew louder than Daniel could stand, and he fell, wrapping his hands around his head, his own screams joining and rivaling theirs.  Tears poured from his eyes, and he began to pull his own hair.

“I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it!  Please, please make it stop!  I’ll do anything, oh god please make it stop…”  Daniel’s screams faded to soft sobbing as the tormented cries of the damned receded.

“Why did you do that?”  Jesus was glaring at Lucifer, his fists balled at his sides.  “Don’t you realize how much this child has already been through?  The decision has to be his, of his own free will!”

Lucifer had a far off, dreamy expression on his dark face.  He was gently shaking with silent laughter.  “You heard him, Chief,” he said.  “You heard him.  He said he’d do it, and that makes it official.”  Lucifer’s eyes closed, and he screamed into the darkness.  “Accleus is mine!  I shall have him, and he shall pay for keeping all these souls from me for so long!  He shall pay!”  His laughter echoed throughout the darkness, reverberating from everywhere, and nowhere.

The screams of the damned were lost in the heartless, soul-searing sound of Lucifer’s laughter.  Curling himself into the fetal position, Daniel began to cry once again.  Not even Jesus could comfort him, or relieve his fears.

 

11

As Daniel stood alone once again in the blackness of the Between Life, he promised himself that he would show no fear when Accleus appeared.  He would show no fear, even though it coursed through his body faster than his blood.

He opened his mouth to speak the words Jesus had told him, and –

– and heard someone else speak them first.

Accleus, I command thee!  Come forth, that I may devour your soul, and become the sainted angel of death!  I demand you, show yourself, and bow to me!”

The voice roared into the darkness, the power and fearlessness in it undeniable.  Daniel turned to face the owner of this voice, and realized with shame and surprise that it was the old man that had been standing just beyond the school fence, the old man Daniel had saluted in the time-honored way that got your point across without having to say a word.

The old man continued to stare straight ahead, but placed his hands on Daniel’s shoulders and squeezed reassuringly.  Daniel started to speak, but the old priest cut him off with a tight squeeze of his shoulders, and pointed ahead of them.

A soft whimper of longing and fear escaped Daniel’s lips as he looked ahead, and saw the beautiful Accleus running at them from out of the darkness.  A scream beyond anything Daniel could ever imagine escaped Accleus’ throat, a scream full of a rage hitherto unknown – but a scream that contained the slightest hint of fear, as well.

As Accleus drew closer he raised his shiny, razor-sharp sword above his head, preparing to swing it hard and wide at Daniel and the priest.  Daniel wanted to run, but his legs wouldn’t work.  He wanted to scream, but his voice was lost somewhere in his throat.  All he could do was close his eyes and wait for the end.

The tip of the sword touched Daniel’s throat – and suddenly the screaming from Accleus was one of tormented anguish.    The sword fell at Daniel’s feet with a resounding clang, and a warm wetness spread down the front of his Levi’s.

The screams coming from Accleus were unearthly, horrible, tormented screams.  With each scream, Daniel felt as if ice was pulsing through his veins, and finally he could stand it no more.  He opened his eyes to a horror that almost drove him insane.

The old man, the priest Daniel’s mother had taken him to when he was ten, was eating Accleus, the angel of death.

The priest ripped chunks of flesh from Accleus, and swallowed them whole.  An arm slithered down his throat, whole.  A shoulder was torn away and devoured.  A leg was torn away, and was savored by the old man.  Daniel knew without understanding how that the priest was enjoying the taste of the demon.  Bile rose in his throat, but he managed to hold it down.

Accleus was lying on the black floor, unable to move, as the priest continued to feast on him.  His screams began to take on multiple voices, as though more and more people were screaming from his mouth.

Finally, there was nothing left but the beautiful head of Accleus.  The head was still alive, still screaming.  Curses issued from it’s mouth until the priest ripped the tongue out and swallowed it whole.

At this sight, Daniel turned to vomit, and collided with Jesus and Lucifer once again.  They were staring at the old priest who was holding the still moaning head of Accleus.  Everyone was still for a moment, the only sound the low, terrible sounds coming from Accleus’ head.

Finally, the old priest walked up to Lucifer, and held out the remaining part of Accleus, the angel of death, the stealer of souls.

With a pleasure beyond pleasure, Lucifer accepted the offering, bowed ever so slightly to the old man, and disappeared.  The last, fading scream of Accleus followed him into Hell.

“My Lord,” said the old priest, bowing to Jesus.

“Rise, my son,” came the reply from Jesus.  The love in his face was surpassed only by his surprise.  “You know what it means to defeat Accleus.  Take your position, and release the souls of the damned.”

The old man bent down and retrieved the sword that Accleus had dropped.  As he held the sword above his head, wings smoother than silk sprouted from his shoulders.  His eyes began to glow with a golden light of their own, and he grew… young.

To Daniel, he was even more beautiful than Accleus had been.

The new angel of death swung his sword in a circle above his head, and yelled into the blackness.  “I, Thomas Billingsly, the Angel Of Death, release you to the After Life!  Go now, and be cleansed!”

The darkness suddenly burst into bright light, and the souls of thousands and thousands of people came into view.  Some were old, and some were young.  Some were beautiful and others were hideous, but every one of them turned to stare in silence at their savior, the new angel of death.  One by one, they smiled and then faded away, each whispering a word of thanks that came from their very souls.

When the last soul was gone, Jesus turned to Daniel and the former priest, the angel of death.  “Do your job, Thomas, but do it with love.”

Down on one knee, he answered Jesus.  “Yes, my Lord.”

“Daniel,” said Jesus, “it’s time for you to go home.  Thank you, Daniel.  Thank you…”

 

12

“He’s back, we’ve got him!”  The medical technician withdrew a needle from Daniel’s neck, and covered his face with an oxygen mask.  “Get him loaded, we gotta get this kid to trauma now!”

Another voice spoke from Daniel’s left side.  “What about the old man? We can’t just leave him here!”  The voice sounded terrified, shaken.

“He’s dead, Charlie, there’s nothing we can do, now move!  Help me get this kid loaded!”

Daniel was aware of being loaded into the ambulance, but soon faded into the silence of unconsciousness again.

The old priest lay dead on the street, surrounded by onlookers as rain pelted into his staring eyes.

“Well, I’ll call another ambulance, I guess,” said the man with the cellular phone.  “Dunno why, though. The devil’s already got this chap…”

 

13 – Final Scene

The night outside Daniel’s hospital room was dark, cold, and wet.  Rain continued to drizzle from the leaden sky.  The clouds momentarily broke up, and the soft, silky glow from a full moon shown down on Daniel’s brow, bathing his face in radiance and beauty.  For the first time in his life, Daniel Brate slept a sweet, peaceful sleep, a sleep without either nightmares or demons.

The old man placed a small piece of paper on Daniel’s chest, and walked out the door without a sound.

He stopped in front of a room two doors from Daniel’s own, and motioned someone from within to join him.

A woman, looking confused and scared, walked out the door, and took the old man’s hand.  “Don’t worry, Sarah,” said the old man, “I’ll show you the way…”

Later that night, a nurse came in to check on Daniel, and noticed the paper lying on his chest.  She picked it up, and quietly read it.

When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Proverbs 3:24.”

 

The End

David Bowlin

15 July 2000

11:57 a.m.