I quit and that’s all there is to it, really. And I really mean it this time. And sure, I know what THEY always say, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit,” but let me tell you, buddy, that’s all complete and utter bull. I know. I should. I’ve done just about every type of no-good, useless job there is at this point — everything under the proverbial sun — and let me tell you it all sucks. Every time you think you’re a little ahead, just the moment you’re feeling like you’re on top — that’s when the hammer falls.
There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, either. Do a good job or do a piss-poor one and it all amounts to the same thing in the end — and that’s your ass on the line. Sure, I just try to do my job. I even try to be a nice guy. And what do I get? “Good job, Chuck,” or “Nice work, Chuck?” Hell, no. All I get is complaints. Well, I’m tired of it. I quit.
But, there’s just one problem. Thankfully enough, it isn’t really my problem at all. It’s just that THEY keep saying I can’t quit. That’s the problem when you’re a Demon — there’s no contingency for quitting, and the vacation plan really sucks, too.
Not that the other side of the coin is a lot better. I mean, I was an Angel, then a Demon, then an Angel — okay, so I wasn’t an up-and-up Angel, but I was the Angel of Death and that does have the big “A” word in the title, right? And now, the way I see it, is I’m unemployed, or between jobs, or comfortably freelance. I’m completely and utterly Chuck for Hire, Freelance Demon (or Angel or whatever.)
The one thing that I am completely and totally sure of is that I’m not going back to that work-a-day grind they call “doing your job.” What did I get out of it anyway? I didn’t even get paid, really. Why bother?
So, here I am sitting on my sofa (and I use that in the loosest construction of the word since this piece of springs and torn cotton can barely be called anything) in my crappy apartment with the paper-thin walls and trying to ignore the doorbell.
You see, I know exactly who it is. I know for a fact that THEY don’t have to use the doorbell — or the door — for that matter. But I keep up my charade just for the sake of my own demonic sanity and keep watching TV and eating chips out of the bag (and from wherever they fall.)
But the doorbell keeps ringing, and the knocking continues, and now I can hear my neighbors pitching hell. They’re wearing me down. That’s their plan. It always has been. I guess it works, because against all my better instincts I find myself answering the door.
And there THEY stand. Both of THEM. Representatives of the respective two-sides-of-the-coin. Not looking too chummy, I notice. But, not looking that ill at ease with each other as you might expect. After all, they’re both in the same business, so to speak. You could hardly have one side without the other.
“May we come in?” Metaron asks very politely, as if I could stop THEM from coming in if I wanted to.
I nod. Because I know perfectly well that THEY are coming in. After all, THEY don’t just show up at your apartment and go away when you don’t open the door.
In fact, THEY don’t usually pay housecalls at all, the way I hear it. Which means that I’m probably in a lot of trouble again. But then again, maybe not. I think that this time, maybe, I’ve finally gotten everything all figured out. I’ve quit. And there’s not really a lot left THEY can do to me.
I have been to Hell and back — and I have to admit that on a really hot day in L.A. waiting in traffic in my rust-wagon of a car with no A/C and no hope of moving for the next hour or so, I have to say, that I might prefer Hell. At least in Hell you get to meet some interesting people.
So, I hold open the door a bit and Metaron nods and smiles back at me and then The Other One pushes past and lights a cigarette. HE takes one look at my apartment, puffs on his unfiltered stick, and says in that buzzing voice of his, “Man, Chuck, this is real crap.”
“Thanks, I guess I wouldn’t have noticed without your astute comment.”
HE takes another drag good and slow and blows smoke right in my face. “Damn you, Chuck,” HE says, “You’re really starting to piss me off.”
“Well,” I say, “I’m sorry to be an inconvenience, but you could always get the Hell out of my apartment and let me get back to watching TV.”
HE just glares and puffs.
And then Metaron speaks. “There’s really no need for all this difficulty, is there?” He asks sweetly. “We can all behave like adults, can’t we?” He asks looking at “B.”
“B.” smiles with his perfectly capped teeth. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” HE says. “This is more your show anyway.”
Metaron nods and smiles again. Then He takes a step forward and adjusts his tie in that business-like way that all middle-managers and HR consultants have down pat. “Chuck,” He says, “This is an intervention.”
“B.” laughs snidely, and I say, “What? A what? What do you guys do all day? Sit around watching Oprah?”
“B.” glares and Metaron smiles sadly with just a little sympathy thrown in, like a talk show host talking to a crack addict. “Now, Chuck,” He says, “There’s no need for hostility. This is for your own good.”
“Oh, I don’t really see how that’s possible,” I say, “I’m perfectly fine here with my TV and my chips.”
“Really? says “B.” snidely, “Well, how fine would you be, I wonder, if your chips were turned to scorpions and your TV sank into the fiery bowels of Hell, huh?”
“I guess I’d just buy new chips and a TV.” I smile and light a cigarette of my own. Metaron looks displeased and pulls out a linen kerchief. Then he sneezes a tiny, disapproving sneeze. “B.” rolls his eyes.
“They’ll be no more talk of scorpions or such things,” says Metaron. “That’s not the way you do these things.”
I half expect him to pull out a “How to Host an Intervention” booklet or maybe “Intervention for Dummies.” I can definitely see how this tactic is appealing to both sides. It has the benevolent condescension that Side A is so fond of and the general annoyance that Side B thrives on.
“Enough of this BS,” says “B,” with a puff, “Let’s just get on with this. Chuck is pissing a lot of really important people off — and by ‘people’ I don’t mean ‘people’ at all. Now it’s time for Chuck to get off his ass and get back to work.”
“Said with little eloquence,” says Metaron, “but nonetheless the truth. We can’t have you sitting here doing, well, whatever it is you do. You have to do something.”
“I am doing something,” I say, “I was watching the game I had taped. That was until you two came in here with your little song and dance. And if you would be so good as to get the Hell out, I guess I’ll get back to watching the game.” I gesture to the still open door.
“It’s not so simple, Chuckie old boy,” says “B.” “Oh no, we have a job for you to do, and you’re going to be a good boy and do it.”
“Yes,” says Metaron, “We don’t expect you to like it.”
“But,” says “B.” “You sure as Hell will do it.”
“And what if I say no?” I ask.
“No one says no,” says “B.”
“No,” says Metaron, “They never do.”
“Never?” I ask.
“Never,” says “B.”
And I know that HE means it. Never. No one says no. Ever.
“So,” I say, trying to sound nonchalant, “What exactly is this job that no one ever says no to?”
“Oh,” says “B.” “That’s the best part.”
“Yes,” says Metaron, “We’ve been instructed not to tell you.”
“Then how, pray tell, am I supposed to do said job if I don’t know what the Hell it is? Maybe in fact I’m doing it right now, huh?”
“You’ll know it when you see it,” says “B” with another drag on his now almost a stub of a cigarette.
“We are terribly sorry we can’t provide more information,” says Metaron, “but as you know, rules are rules.”
“Oh, sure,” I say, “I get that. Rules are friggin’ rules.”
“Yes, indeedy,” says “B,” flicking his cigarette butt onto my ragged green carpeting, “they sure are.”
I stand there just looking at THEM and willing THEM to leave, and finally with infinite and utter slowness THEY do. And suddenly the entire day has just gone stale for me. The TV, the chips, my nice comfy place on the sofa, the annoying pounding on the wall from my neighbors — I just can’t stand any of it right now.
I grab my coat, which is actually really nice, and I check the pocket to make sure I have my lighter and my keys, and then I close the door on the whole sorry day. Driving always makes me feel better — even if it is in my car. I like to be out. I like people. I’m a people-person if you can believe it. I figure that people cheer you up because someone, somewhere is always having a worse day than you.
I get in the car, slam the door with a really satisfying thud, and I’m just lighting a cigarette when I feel Her looking at me through the passenger-side window. She has that kind of intense stare that you only get from lunatics and the Divine. You know how they say that cats can hypnotize their prey? Well, I feel sort of small and furry just looking at Her.
And then She blinks. I know She doesn’t have to, and that makes it a little more galling. She smiles, showing a few too many teeth, all of them pearly-gate white, and says, “Hello, Chuck, I suppose you’ve been expecting me.”
“Does it look like it?” I say, taking a drag.
She smiles again and my cigarette goes out. “They say it’s bad for your health,” She says.
“Who’s They?” I ask, as if I don’t already know.
“We really do have a full day ahead,” She says, “We should probably get a move on.” Before I can say anything more, She opens the passenger’s side door — which I really do remember having locked.
And all of a sudden it hits me. She smells just like she looks — immaculate and expensive like a French Manicure or a new car. And even though getting into a car isn’t exactly the most graceful thing in the world, She somehow makes it look like some kind of dance. And let me just say that the old saying is true. Ignorance is bliss because knowing what you’re dealing with can sometimes scare the crap out of you.
I start to say Her name, but before the words even get out of my mouth or even through the thickness of my brain, She says, “Really, there’s no need for titles here, is there, Chuck?”
Only, when She says “Chuck,” there’s just this tiny echo where I can almost hear my true name, and I have to work hard not to shudder.
“Call me whatever you want,” She says, “After all, I’ve had many names over the years. What’s in a name, eh, Chuck?”
I really want a cigarette right about now, but I fight the urge and turn over the engine. It purrs, swear to God, purrs and starts without a hitch for once in its sorry mechanical life. And then I notice that the A/C is actually working and even the seats seem a lot more comfortable.
Sure. It makes sense. Archangels, they’re the rock stars of the celestial realm. And the one thing that They always demand is perfection. I don’t know what gave it away first — the perfect hair, the tight white leather, or the flaming Sword. A toss-up, really. But, any fool knows perfection when he sees it. So, I shift into “D” and off we go on our merry adventure.
And although I wasn’t really expecting any sort of explanation, I unfortunately got one.
“I know you’re not one for rules, Chuck,” She says, “So I expect this little task will be a walk in the park for you.”
I say nothing and keep my eyes on the road. I’ve found it’s best not to commit early on.
“Well,” She says confidentially, “I have always been one for rules, as it were, and I have to say that I really, really don’t care for this situation.” She smiles. “But, as they say, we all have to do our jobs, whether we like them or not.”
“Really?,” I ask, “And I don’t suppose you could clue me in on just what my job is, could you, Red?”
She smiles, “Red, I like that.” She says, “It’s mildly charming. And well, yes, I guess I could fill you in, as you say. We’re having a problem with the rules — or some of US are, anyway. I should say that I’m wholly against this, Chuck, but I do follow the rules, so when I’m told to do something, I do it. No questions asked.”
“Funny,” I say, “but it sounded a bit like a question was in there somewhere.”
She says nothing but gestures with her Sword, still flaming, but of course, not ruining the interior, “It was so simple in the beginning, wasn’t it, Chuck?” She asks. “Just the Word and the Sword and the Rules. That’s all there were. You obeyed or you faced the Wrath of the Divine. But now it’s gotten, oh so complicated.”
I shrug. “Nostalgia can be a bitch. Life has always seemed pretty damn complicated to me — past and present.”
“Yes,” she says, “I suppose, but at least they used to fear. You know, the common man. We had that, at least.”
I push in my lighter, but it doesn’t seem to be working, and I can only imagine what will happen if I try to light a cigarette on the Sword. Nothing good, I can tell you.
I just drive, and after a while She says, “Stop. Here.”
So I do. We’re in front of a building that looks like it should’ve been condemned, but of course it isn’t. There’s a kid with a dog, both kind of skittish looking, sitting on the stairs outside, but he hustles off when he sees my car stop.
There’s just something wrong with the building that can’t be explained by decay and the general malaise of the place. It’s as if the air has gone bad, and when I look at Her, She has this sad, half-smile on her face. “You know, Chuck,” She says, “They say there’s a place for everyone in Heaven and Hell, but that just isn’t true.”
“No,” She says, “And what do you do when Heaven won’t have you and Hell doesn’t want you?”
“I ask myself that question every day.”
“I suppose you do.”
“I guess there’s some particular reason we’re stopped here,” I say.
Red just sits there, staring ahead. Then finally she nods. “Here’s the thing, Chuck,” she says slowly, “There are rules. You know? And the rules are there for a reason. But then there’s Right and Wrong too. And sometimes when you play by the rules, you can’t be Right or Wrong.” She looks at me with that intense stare and I almost think for a minute that She looks, well, kind of sad.
“So what rule or rules do you want me to break?”
She smiles again. “Always right to the point, eh, Chuck? That’s just it exactly. There’s even a name these Mortals have for it — a loophole, I think.”
All I can think at this point is that I really, really want a cigarette. I just can’t find anything to do with my hands, and this is a time that would usually merit a long drag. Instead, I just put both hands on the steering wheel and look straight ahead.
“I’m not asking you to break any rules, Chuck. Really, it’s not as if you have any rules to break. It seems as if you generally do as you please. And let’s face it, you always have. If you hadn’t, then you might be sitting right where I am right now. There was a time, Chuck…”
“I didn’t know we were here to reminisce. Just get on with it. Whatever it is that you don’t want to do, or you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t do. Whatever it is that you think you want me to do instead. Just spit it out.”
Instead, She opens the car door and steps into the street. And I follow Her into the building. It’s just about what I expected, given the outside of the place. Peeling paint, scuffed floors, graffiti, and that general feeling of utter despair that you get from places like these. There’s a carved a banister at the end of the hall that hasn’t been polished in half a century, and you know that this place really has seen better days. Maybe in the 1920’s it was really something. A real showplace. And the folks that lived here were on top of everything. Even buildings can fall from grace, I think.
So, we climb right up the stairs and walk to the end of the hall, kicking pizza boxes and last week’s trash out of the way as we go. Finally, Red stops in front of a door and nods.
I really take a look. That’s the thing about being what we are. If we want to, we can look right down to the grain. This place had the stink of evil. Real evil.
It’s the kind of place that children and animals shy away from. The kind of place where even the Jehovah’s Witnesses wouldn’t have the balls to ring the doorbell. There’s nothing technically wrong with it, but its “unrightness” hangs in the air like demented static electricity. Even I, Chuck the Demon, don’t want to knock on that door.
But the Angel with the flaming Sword gives me a nudge, and I find myself knocking. Even if I didn’t already know something was wrong, I would when the door opens right up, just like he’s been waiting. Just like he’s glad to see us. He’s even smiling — at least, that’s what I guess that twist of the mouth is that he’s making. And then he invites me in. The Angel follows.
That’s the thing about Angels. Not just anyone can see them. Sure, they can be seen when they want to. But they can’t hide themselves from some: children, saints, and madmen. I can tell by the way that this guy is being careful not to look over my right shoulder that he knows perfectly well that Someone holding a flaming piece of steel is standing right behind me. But he’s deciding to be “nonchalant,” so I figure what the hell, I’ll just play along.
Despite the fact that I’m standing in the middle of his apartment, this guy just keeps smiling. He doesn’t even ask what the Hell I’m doing here, which would’ve been number one on my need to know list. Anyone can see there’s something seriously amiss with this fellow. He isn’t exactly a personable madman. You’d never hear his neighbors saying, “He was such a nice quiet man. I would never have imagined that he could do such things.” One look at this guy just sets you to imagining, and you can tell he’s imagining, too.
“You were the Angel of Death,” She says behind me.
“You know what that entails,” I say. “It’s no more than a pick-up job.”
“Still,” She says, “You are a Demon, Chuck, and you were an Angel. There are some things that are never forgotten.”
I say nothing, but when I turn She’s holding out the Sword. “I could tell you,” She says, “I could show you what is, and was, and is to come. But, I think you already know all that.”
“Its not my job,” I protest. “You know that.”
“Yes,” She says, “I do know. But, it is Right.”
“Then you can do it.”
She just shakes her head. “It’s Wrong, too, and that’s where you come in.”
All the time, the maniac just keeps staring at me and Her and the Sword. Only his eyes move, except for the funny little twist of his lips. I close my eyes and feel the Sword slide into my hands, just like old times, and the flame on it stays true against all odds. “This isn’t fair,” I say to everyone and no one.
And right before I swing she says, “Nothing ever is.”
When it’s done, we walk out of the apartment and I notice that She’s careful to shut the door behind Her. The lock clicks with an unnatural loudness and I realize that I can hear my own breath. Hers too.
The Sword is dull now. I try to hand it back to Her, but She shakes her head. So, I carry it downstairs and put it in the trunk of the car. It lies there, just a piece of gleaming metal. Still, it bothers me a little to close the trunk on it.
We drive for a while in silence. Until I flick on the radio, but we’re between stations, so I turn it back off. She sits, staring dead ahead at first and then turns her head to watch me.
I punch in the cigarette lighter and give it a second or two and then light up. She doesn’t say anything, but I can see her make a polite little cough into her hand. “You did the Right thing, Chuck.”
The thing is, I know that. It was the right thing, but it wasn’t the fair thing. Even though I may break the rules all the time, I know in my little black heart that they’re there for a reason. And they’re there for everyone, good and bad. That’s why they’re the rules.
“This won’t be forgotten, Chuck,” She says.
But we’re in front of my apartment, so I just get out of the car and start walking.
She follows me up, of course, right into my apartment and stands there looking perfect and divine. There’s something so utterly devoid of all reason, of all mercy, of all hope in Her that I just look away.
But finally, I have the courage to say it. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you since we first met,” I say.
The Angel is quiet, but looks at me with that earnest, intense stare that She has, just daring me to continue.
So, I take a breath and figure, hey, what the Hell, so I say, “It’s just this — I really, really hate you.”
The Angel smiles, really smiles, for the first time since I’ve met Her. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“I’m not surprised,” I say.
She smirks, “Yeah, well, I bet you thought you were the first.”
“Don’t think this lets you off the hook,” she says, “You still work for US.”
I nod, “Yeah, I guess you Both have me on retainer.”
She turns and walks through the door that I have to say I don’t remember her ever opening, but there it was, open. She stands for a moment in the frame, letting the dramatic lighting of the dying day catch all her best angles. “I’ll see you soon, Chuck.”
I let the door slam before I say, “God, I hope not.” But I know She heard me just the same.
Copyright © 2007 by Beverly Forehand