I tapped my pen annoyedly against the bone of my cheek and stared across my office to the clock hanging above the door. It was 4:24 PM CHT (Central Heaven Time) on Saturday and I had reached a point of such anticipatory boredom, that I simply could not work a minute more. Sundays were our days off and the weekend was approaching one abysmally long second at a time. Of course I was never not working (after all, the two constants in this existence are taxes and me) but the idea of stepping away from the endless paperwork before me for even an iota of time filled me with such a Heavenly power. I checked the clock again. 4:25. I was almost there.
The truth is, I was burnt out. No one had told me at the beginning of Creation that there would be so much paperwork involved. Who would have thought that I’d remember fondly the old days? My bones used to ache from heaving that scythe around. My job was on site instead of this stuffy office and I’d be sent to all manner of detestable locale to pick off some plague victim or starving child. Still, there was always that certain nostalgia for the things I used to have.
That was the time before we enlisted the Psychopomps, before my duties became managerial and administrative. It was before Heaven went corporate to keep up with the new laws of man. The management up top had always admired humanity’s imaginative ways to self govern. They now worshipped efficiency, bureaucracy, and the almightiest of almighties: The Dollar.
Forgive me. I blaspheme.
I moved my fidgeting pen from my cheek to my nameplate at the front of my desk. The tapping produced a far more satisfying sound on solid gold than it did on bare bone. I hoped to drown out the baseless sentiment, at least until the clock struck 5. My gaze wandered to my stacks of workflow. Two ivory boxes lay in perfect symmetry at my desk’s edge, one labelled with a gold-speckled “IN” and the other with an ink-black “OUT.” The stacks of paper that emerged from each box were nearly equal in height, though the stack for “OUT” was a slight bit taller.
This was acceptable. Soon Cassiel would stop by and remove the contents of the “OUT” box before filing the work away in a corner of a room that would never be referenced again. When Monday rolled around, the “IN” stack would be higher but would shrink throughout the following week. No one would question my progress as my work was constant.
“Monday.” I thought to myself and the anxiety of a fleeting weekend that hadn’t even begun wriggled its way into my head. I did not notice but my tapping became harsher and more frequent. I jumped when I knocked my nameplate backwards onto the desk with a thud. Peering, I read the words scrawled in Angelic font.
Chief Angel of Death
The name on the plate almost sounded foreign in my mind. It was rare to talk to anyone who referred to me by my given name any more. These days, most everyone refers to me by my title and my purpose.
My phone rang, sending me into an even greater jolt. I was distracted. I peered at the clock again. The face read 4:36 and I sighed, knowing that the monotony would soon come to its temporary close. I straightened my back into my chair and reformed my composure. I adjusted my summer sky-blue tie and straightened the lapel of my void-black suit coat. My mind wandered back into sentiment for just a moment as I considered the dark sheen of that coat. Once upon a time, it wasn’t a coat but a cloak. Before that, it was something else.
The phone rang repeatedly with a drawl I had come to loathe. I hoped one day to bring an end to that phone. Instead I put an end to its ring. I grabbed the receiver and placed it to the side of my skull.
“This is Death.” I spoke wryly into the transmitter. At first, there was no response. Then, I sensed a coldness down my spine that invoked a fear I had not felt in millenia.
“Hello?” I repeated “Hello, this is Death!”
“It sure is.” A voice as deep as a distant thunderstorm hissed through the earpiece.
“I’m sorry?” I said and, although I didn't have a throat, my voice cracked.
“I said, it sure is, Azzy boy.” The voice was quick to respond.
“May I ask who’s speaking?” I struggled.
“You may,” it said with an equal quickness, “but I think you know exactly who this is.”
“I do.” I admitted. My bones began to rattle against my desk. A call like this was highly irregular. “I’m not sure you’re supposed to be using this line.”
“I just wanted to catch up, old friend. How’ve you been? I’ve heard some great things about you! I hear you get busier and busier every day!”
That was the truth. Work had steadily increased in the convening years. The assurance from the voice on the other line brought me no comfort.
“I’m afraid,” I interjected, “that I can’t tie up this line with casual conversation. This number is for official death and dying inquiries only. I am available for appointment if-”
“None of that matters much any more, old friend.” The hiss interrupted with a tone that was anything but friendly. “I wanted to call to let you know that we’re deciding to move forward with the acquisition and your services are going to be highly sought after in the near future.”
“I’m sorry?” I said again. “I’m not sure I-”
“The big one! I hope you’re polished up on your horse riding!” There was a pause and I heard a hoarse, muffled laugh in the background.
There was a brief knock at my door and Cassiel stepped into the office. She regarded me with indifference as she approached the stack of “IN” papers, lifted them with two hands, and made back towards the door. She briefly eyed the tall stack in the “OUT” box and met my gaze with a look that said “You’re really going to leave all of that unfinished?”
Thankfully, I do not have a face. Otherwise my returned look would have said, “I do not presently care about my current workload because I am stricken with an existential horror!” Instead I pointed to my phone to denote that I was too busy for chiding. Cassiel rolled her eyes and left without a word.
“Are you still there?” The hiss returned.
“Surely, this is some sort of prank.” I said when I was sure Cassiel was out of earshot. “The Plan is working so well! Without a hitch, I’d say!”
“Without a hitch?” It mocked me. “Always the naive one, little Azrael. Though you were always so dutiful too. Still, people are dying so things are going without a hitch, huh?”
“Of course!” I mustered an ounce of confidence and answered. “Acquisitions are up on both sides! I figured you would be happy with the numbers! Things are-” I hesitated. “Things are equitable!”
“I don’t really care much about any of that now.”
“But, a takeover?” I sputtered. “Really?”
“Oh, why do you care, Azrael?” The hiss became a shout so fierce that I pulled the phone receiver away from my head. “Do you think I can’t feel the yearn in your bones, little Angel? What if I were to tell you that the takeover is part of The Plan and always has been? Then how do you respond? Do you remain the little office drone you are, hoping to someday buzz in Father’s ear? Or do you embrace the old ways?”
“The old ways?” I mused back into the phone as I absentmindedly regarded the clock again. Even as I stared, my mind refused to make note of the time.
“One way or another, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Lot’s of names to write down!”
The hiss inside the phone gave a final, coarse laugh before I heard a click and the endless tone of a disconnected call. I held the phone upright for an uncomfortable time before returning it to its cradle. My sight finally focused on the clock face. 5PM, the day’s end. Finally.
“The old times.” I said to myself.
Mark Swan      11/17/20 1:52 PMMade some brief edits to this, for new readers. I did not realize Channillo cut off the very end of the chapter! Fixed. Also, this series takes place at different points in time simultaneously. I decided to put anything happening in the "present" in italics. Enjoy!