"We can't get your credit card to work. The computer says you are deceased," said Farley.
"I suggest you correct it," said Albert as he glared at the store clerk and leaned up over the counter to intimidate him.
"I'm afraid it's going to take a while," said Farley.
"Wrong again," Albert said clinching his fists. "It's going to take you five minutes."
Farley had to tilt his head back to look Albert in the face. He stole a glance at the girl with Albert and again noticed the burn marks on her arms and her black eye. He cleared his throat. "We could use the quick method of error elimination."
"Yes, I'd advise you to use the quickest method you've got," said Albert.
"If you'll follow me, sir," Farley said as he ushered Albert to a door marked Private.
He was gone a few minutes then came back with only Albert's credit card.
"There you are Mrs. ...
"Miss Wilson," said the girl.
"Ah, Miss. Better. You won't need this again." She watched as Farley snipped the card in two with scissors. "Sad to say, this customer is deceased."
"That was the computer's mistake. Albert isn't dead," said the girl.
"I assure you, our computer is not in error," Farley said solemnly.
She placed one hand over her mouth. Farley slid the bed sheets across the counter toward her and asked, "Would you accept these with our compliments?"
She extended her hand to shake Farley's. "That would be lovely."
When he came to, he was in a place lit by a single bare bulb. Shadows stretched in every direction, making it impossible to tell the size or location of the room. He felt chilled, though wasn't sure if it was from the temperature of the room or the growing sense of unease that grew inside his chest. Guilt.
The woman standing before him wore thin-rimmed glasses in which his own terrified face was reflected. She held a long knife in nimble fingers, her needle-like red fingernails playing across its steely, cool surface.
"We weren't joking," she hissed. "We make these rules for a reason." She punctuated the last word with a sharp flick of her wrist. The cut was as long as his little finger and deep enough to make his ears ring. He could feel the blood sliding down his check and itched to wipe it away, but the restraints held fast. Futile.
He awoke, heart pounding, lungs screaming. He lunged for the book on his nightstand, managing to snatch it just before he fell off the bed and onto the floor. Frantically, he flipped to the back cover where a date was rubberstamped. The date was two days away. Light-headed with relief, he sunk down amid his tangled bed sheets.
He had more time. His library books weren't due today. Happy tears sprang to his eyes. He had more time.
It wasn't sweet this time. Usually, it's so very sweet, a saccharine traipse across the palate. No, this time I detected a vigorous spice which never had I before encountered in all my profession. This one was special. Her grace, that is what exposed her; mortals could never move with such intensity of purpose and poise. Our eyes met, once. A fleeting glance, but wrought in the image of pure emotion. I knew what she wanted, knew what she needed to return to. She needed my help. One swift motion, a bit of pressure, a bit of guidance. The stroke of an artist, precise and inspired, and rapture descended to claim its luminous daughter. I held her tightly as she released the last brief illusions of a frightful world. She clung to me, but she didn't need to. The gates to peace were flung wide, greeting her with loving welcome. Her hands, chilled in the face of overwhelming majesty, relaxed and fell limp. I used to cry. But tears are an ill-suited gift to send to paradise. One more embrace, a moment of tender rapport. Then I could claim my reward. Images of holy ichor dripped through my thoughts as carnal hunger scorched my bowels. Would it be sweet and pure, as her angelic expression suggested? Alabaster skin gleamed with reflected light, immaculate to a hand's caress. My breath rasped, sporadic and harsh, but I knew she could bear no longer. Ecstasy awaited.
Lo! I stand before my greatest foe,
His height reaches taller than any man,
But he has been overcome — yes, this I know,
They say there is hope, but it does not show,
My doubt has grown since this struggle began.
That Constellation and I now begin our fight,
But my strength drains ever so quickly.
As I stand under his dark shadow of spite,
And soon feel Lucifer's cool, bitter bite,
It renders me helpless, weak, and sickly.
I was once as a king,
Now Tantalus of mind.
I feel insanity's relentless sting.
But no, do not pity my aching,
In my enemy's merciless bind.
To him I fall, and thus rid of his disease,
In life I was crowned the Pope of Fools,
But friends, do not mourn, for I am now at ease,
And leave my body as it floats down the seas,
My love, I am now with God, where I shall find my jewels.