Fantasy Fiction Funny

This story contains sensitive content

**WARNING** Comedic religious themes, mild cursing.

* * *

Jack wanted out. He wagered he’d been in Purgatory longer than he’d been alive, hadn’t really gotten much out of either experience, and felt ready just to move on.

Purgatory, for Jack, consisted of AA meetings, sensitivity training, and weekly counseling sessions. All this was deemed necessary because Jack, when alive, had displayed little regard for women, even less for the rest of mankind, and possessed an unbridled passion for food and drink. He’d died fat, drunk and alone.

God, frowning, watched Jack and rubbed his chin. He was consulting with Cato, the Guardian of Purgatory, whose job it was to give the Lord progress reports every quarter. He made recommendations regarding who was ready to move on, who had more soul-sanitization to do or, for an unfortunate few, those who had fallen back and were considered irredeemable. These were the ones Satan had his serpentine eye on. 

Of course, God was loathe to give up on any of his children and possessed the patience of all saints put together when it came to their purification.   He wished for each to succeed.

“Has Jack shown any improvement?”

“Well, your Lordship,” said Cato, glancing at a notepad he kept in a cloud and produced at will, “this quarter Jack skipped 26 Angel Abstinence meetings. He’s been banned from sensitivity training classes until he writes a 7,000 word letter of apology to Archangel Haniel for calling her a prissy little saint that needed to have her robes fluffed. She had no idea what it meant but she didn’t like the tone of it. She confided to me she thought he’d been nipping a couple before class.”

God shook his head.

“I see. Any progress in private counseling?”

“Well, he’s already gone through three of our best. Phanuel, the Angel of Truth, complained to me that Jack was a trickster and spoke in riddles, so he got nowhere and fairly quickly recused himself.

Then Michael tried, he really did, but once the Angel of Faith is on the brink of losing his own, he felt he had to resign. 

And, to top it all off, Jack was so disrespectful to the Anjo da Paz . . .”

“Don’t tell me . . .”

“He actually tried to pick a fight with the Angel of Peace, said something about taking the discussion outside. There’s simply no way for any angel to deal with that.”

“Are you saying Jack may be a lost cause?”

“That’s the thing of it, Lord. He hasn’t gotten better and he hasn’t gotten worse. He’s remained consistent. He is, in a word, stuck.”

“Well, it is Purgatory.”

“He lacks an important ingredient I’ve yet to put my finger on.”

“So, who do you suggest take on the counseling?”

“We gave the assignment to Uriel. He's supremely wise and should be smart enough to crack our toughest nut down there.”

“Very well, Cato, and I have an additional idea.  There’s something about this one, Jack. He’s unique, stubborn, a real case study, but if we can get him to channel that negative energy into something positive, something irresistible . . .”

“What do you suggest, Lord God? I’m all ears.”

“I’d like to have Archangel Jophiel stand by.”

“The Angel of Love?” 

“I want Jack to figure this out for himself but he may need a little direction. This is what I was thinking . . .”

* * *

“Look, Cato, I would think you’d like to be rid of me. We’re not doing much for each other here, are we? Let’s face it.”

“Jack, we’ve had countless parole hearings just like this one. Do you realize you have not improved one teeny tiny smidgen of an iota of the head of a pin?”

“Get to the point, Warden.”

“You don’t want to go backwards, do you?”

“Can’t happen. I know my sins. They’re all venial, I believe is the term.  Minimal. I haven’t deprived myself of the opportunity for divine grace. I’ve done the research, Cato. I have never committed anything close to deadly sin. I doubt the Dark Guy even knows I exist.”

“Very smooth.  Yes, but you’re not going anywhere unless you clean up your act.”

“You’re not telling me anything new, Cato.”

Jack turns to leave.

“I do have a unique proposal to offer you.”

Jack stopped, turned back to Cato.

“Do you now?”

“If you think you’re up to it, you've been given a special opportunity. You can forego the AA meetings, the classes, cut back counseling, but only if you are able to accomplish one thing instead.”

“And that would be?”

“Acquire a mate.”

Jack acted as if he’d been sucker-punched.

“What? Are you joking? Is the Big Man playing? Come on, Cato.”

“Those are the terms. You get someone, anyone, to genuinely want to be your companion, joined in holy matrimony, and God says he will consider your soul cleansed.”

“But he already knows my track record! I couldn’t maintain a marriage! I swore off love, you know that!  I’ve been burned so many times, why do you think I spend so much time with a bottle for company?  I don’t need AA or counseling to tell me that!  I can’t deal with people. Thanks anyway but no thanks.”

This time, Jack turned and kept going.

“Think about it, Jack,” Cato called after him. “This could be your last chance unless you agree to change.”

* * *

Jack kept walking, trying to clear his mind. He mumbled his frustrations to himself.

“Everyone expects so much of me. I haven’t done anything so horrible that I should be condemned to spend eternity in a do-nothing weigh station. I just don’t happen to get along with other people, or beings, and I don’t think I’m the first or the only. 

And where’s the crime here? It’s the way I’m wired, I’ve always been like this. Ask all my spouses, anyone who’s had the misfortune to know me. Would you really want this sort of history to repeat?”

Just then, Jack saw in the distance a figure approaching.

“Oh, what now. What fresh hell is this?”

Jack quickly moved off the path, knelt low and hid behind a row of bushes, waiting for the passerby to pass by.

It wasn't long before he heard, “Well, hello there. Are we playing a game?”

Jack turned to see a green-eyed, dark-haired beauty. She wore pure white robes of flowing silk with golden accents around her small waist and in her shining hair.

“If you don’t mind,” Jack stood and brushed off his knees, “I’m having kind of a bad time. I’d like to be alone. Okay with you?”

“Of course. My name’s Lydia. What’s yours?”

“Great Heavens, woman, can’t you hear?  I just said I would like to be left alone.”

“You know, sometimes when I’m having a particularly bad day, it helps to talk to a friend, get another viewpoint. Could make a difference.”

“Lady, I don’t know you from a hole. . .” Jack looked up to see the woman startle.

“I’m the last person in Purgatory you’d want for a friend, lady. Trust me.”

Jack then abruptly took his leave. The surprised beauty stepped aside and let him pass without another word.

* * *

God had seen the whole exchange. He rubbed his chin and shook his head.  

“Oh well. Back to the drawing board.”

* * *

Jack finally made it to his second-floor apartment, part of a nondescript complex intended for the transient. It was time to heat his dinner, the same meal he’d had every night since his arrival; meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas, which had been fine the first 200 servings. He had to get out of this place. 

“I need a drink.”

He went to his stash of spirits in the bedroom closet and brought out a bottle of rye and collected a glass from the kitchen. Just then there came a knock at the door.

I’ll just pretend to be out. They’ll get the hint.

“Hello? Anyone home?”

It was a woman’s voice.

Cato, you meddling thorn!

“I really need help! Please, is anyone there?”

Jack thought.

It must be a trick. What are the odds . . .

Jack went to the door.

“Who is it?”

“I knew you were in there! Now, please, may I come in?”

“Not if I have no idea who you are, you can’t!”

“My name is Matilda.  So, now you know who I am.”

“Matilda, I’m Jack. I’m also tired and in no mood for company. Can you respect that?”

“Well, Jack, I just happen to have a bottle of scotch with me, aged 10 years in a sherry cask. Something you may recall from a different time and place? I felt like sharing.”

Jack noticed his hands begin to shake. As he went to set the rye down on the table, he instead set the glass down, removed the cap and took a long swig.  He swallowed, closed his eyes and exhaled.

Then he sat at his table and poured a glass.

“No, thanks. I’m good. Please leave.”


(Long pause)

“All right then. Suit yourself.”

I intend to.

* * *

God had been watching the entire time. He shook his head, brow furrowed, and began to pace. 

“We're back to square one.”

“Pardon, My Lord, you sent for me?”

”Yes, Jophiel, I'd like your consult.”

“So I hear. Cato has been getting messages to me. That boy has some serious armor against amore. So far, it doesn’t appear anyone's made a dent.”

“Do you know the history?”

“String of failed relationships in mortal life. It happens, but most can be swayed, even the bitterest of the bitter. You just need the right formula.”

“Your thoughts?”

“Something irresistible.”

“Jophiel, we just offered 10 year-old scotch.”

 “I have something even more compelling in mind.”

“What’s that?”

“True love.”

* * *

Jack slept, his arms wrapped around the empty rye bottle. Whenever he exhaled, he was close enough to the mouth of the bottle to produce a low ‘toooot’ in counterpoint to his gravelly snore.

He suddenly awoke and, with a snort, looked around. 

Is that singing? What the. . . 

He slowly rolled himself out of bed, ignored the empty bottle as it slipped to the floor. He went to a side window and pulled the drape aside just a fraction of an inch.

There on the lawn below, he saw the delicate frame of a woman kneeling, planting something. He took an involuntary breath. He tried taking his eyes away, but couldn’t.  He realized what he felt was pleasure and made room for it. 

Jack took note of how she moved. She was smooth and efficient as she worked a spade through the ground. She wore a kerchief on her head, honey-colored ringlets framing her face. 

She sang as she worked, low and sweet.

            “When you think the night has seen your mind,

            that inside you’re twisted and unkind,

            let me stand to show that you are blind.

            Please put down your hands ‘cause I see you.”

Jack lingered for a moment longer. He slowly replaced the drape and went to get cleaned up.

* * *

God smiled.

“Well, now we’re getting somewhere.”

* * *

“What are you doing there?”

A lovely set of soft brown eyes swept him inside.

“Hi yourself.”

Jack suddenly felt awkward.

“Who gave you permission to do that?”


“I don’t need permission to spread a little beauty around.  As a matter of fact, it’s encouraged.”

“Oh.” Jack felt out of his depth.

The woman stood, removed the kerchief from around her hair and wiped her hand before extending it to Jack. 

“I’m Maya.”


Jack was caught up in the sight of Maya’s hair as it came down in a golden cascade he longed to touch.

“Well, Jack, do you know anything about plants?”

“Not much. I know what I like to look at.”

“This is burning shrub, or bush. How about that color!”

“It’s beautiful.”

Maya could see Jack still had his eyes fixed on her. She raised an eyebrow and only then did Jack train his eye to the ground.

“It’s very red, really very red.”

“A bit like your face, I’d say.”

Jack wished he could just disappear.

“Oh, well, I . . .”

“I doubt there’s anything better than a man who’ll blush in a woman’s presence. You’re all right, Jack.”

“Do you live here, Maya?”

“Not right here, but I come by often. I thought this area could use some color.”

He had more to say, but kept hesitating. 

“Well, I must be going. I’ll be back. I hope to see you again, Jack."

“Wait! That song you were singing.”

“Like it?”

Jack nodded.

“I’m glad. It’s called, 'I’m Your Mirror.' Bye, Jack.”

Jack watched Maya go. Suddenly he had a vision, and a thought soon followed.

Let’s learn to walk together.

* * *

During their next quarterly meeting, God listened intently as Cato was close to wrapping up his findings.

“We now come to our work-in-progress. Jack.”

“From my observation, I’ve never seen Jack happier.  I can’t remember the last time I saw him take a drink. What are you seeing, Cato?”

“Outwardly, Jack is happy.  He’s in love, maybe for the first time in all his time.”

“I sense a “but” in there.”  

“Let me play something back for you. Then I think we should discuss it. This is from just a few days ago.”


“I have to ask why, Maya, in all of Purgatory, you’d pick me, a loser by anyone's definition. Is there something wrong with YOU then? No, I’m so sorry, I don’t mean that.  Of course, I don’t.”

“Jack, I am precisely where I want to be and you know it. Here with you.”

“But why? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Maybe I should just let it be. I don’t think I can manage this, being this much in love.”   

“There’s nothing to manage, Jack. You don’t love yourself, and until you do, you’ll always be in doubt because you don’t know your worth.”

“I don’t love myself for good reason, so I wonder how you possibly can. It doesn’t make sense.”


“I didn’t think he was still struggling to that extent. How did I miss this?”

“I should think you have your hands full with the mortal realm, My Lord.” 

“Still, this is important. How has he been around others?”

“He hasn’t. Maya’s the only one.”

“Hmm, that’s not healthy.”

“Why do you think he’d not trust it, go so far as to sabotage his own happiness?”

“Has he gone to counseling with Uriel?”

“Not yet.”

“Let’s give that a try. Meet with Uriel and fill him in. He’s wiser than all of us.”

"Present company excluded."

* * *

“I’m the biggest loser there ever was.”

Jack slouched across from Uriel. He looked as though he lacked the strength it would require to hold his head up, much less the rest of him; a puppet without strings.

Uriel locked his fingers together before his chin, peering into Jack.

“And why did you feel you had to part with the love of your life, death, and everything in between, as you put it? You haven’t adequately explained that to me, Jack.”

Jack stared at the ceiling.

“It was inevitable.  Anyway, she deserves a lot better than me.”

“Why do you despise yourself so much, Jack?”

“I’m not a good person.”

“Then why aren’t you in Hell, do you think?”

“Because I’m not a bad person either.”

“Can you think of any reason you couldn’t become one?”

“Look at my life on Earth and my life in limbo. It’s all the same.”

“What’s your past got to do with it, Jack? What is its power over you?”

“It’s not power, it just . . . is.”

“And where has it gotten you?”

Jack stared at his hands.

“So, how would one with more than one lifetime of disastrous failure go about becoming a better being?”

* * *

God couldn’t wait for the end of the next quarterly meeting with Cato before addressing Jack.

“I think we have something here, Cato.”

“I have to admire the amount of time and effort Jack’s put into his renewal. Have you seen how he regards himself in the mirror these days?”

God clapped his hands together, grinning. “I believe we are witnessing a modern day miracle, Cato!”

“Perhaps, My Lord. Tonight he plans to visit Maya and win her back. We’ll know soon enough.”

* * *

“Who’s there?”

“It’s Jack. May I come in?”

“Why, Jack? I can’t take anymore, I just can’t.”

“Please, Maya. This is important.”

Maya opened the door and stepped back. Jack rushed in, wanting to grab her, hold her, but restrained himself. He let his words pour out.

“I’ve changed, Maya, and it's all because of you! I did the work. Everything you said was true. I was blind, I really was. I know what love is now, really know.  And I know I can love you, love you forever and I can make you happy. I want to . . ."

Maya calmly looked at Jack. Jack hadn’t expected to find her so cool, almost cold. His smile faltered.

“What’s wrong, Maya?"

"Well, I don't know, what could possibly be wrong?"

"I hope it's not too late. Have I ruined it?”

“Has Jack ruined it? Hmm. Well, let's take a look back, Jack. I doubt you remember the old Jack, or you wouldn’t have the nerve to come around claiming to be reborn and, ooooh, now I know all about love. 

Take it from me, firsthand, Jack, now having had time to reflect, I must say you really were a rude, mean, self-centered, self-serving, winy LOSER!”

Jack raised both hands and backed away. “Whoa!”

Maya moved swiftly past Jack and held the door open, then looked away.  

“Please. Go.”

* * *

God clutched his head.

I cannot believe Jack managed to turn that sweet angel into another Jack, but somehow he did.

“Back to square one.”

April 19, 2023 17:47

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Russell Mickler
22:37 Apr 24, 2023

Hey Susan! Your opening line was great! Loved the Cato report on Jack. I love how Jack is just so flippant with deities; Jack's a honeybadger, and honeybadger don't care. Fresh Hell, in Purgatory, kinda funny ... And uh, Maya and Jack are still stuck in Purgatory which is kind of the point I guess :) Lots of comedy, especially in the front, loved the narrator's voice; the irony of repeating their life's cycles in the afterlife forever is just a little terrifying - I'm pretty sure Cato plays for both teams and we didn't see his meetings...


Susan Catucci
12:29 Apr 25, 2023

Hi R - I'm so glad you stopped by and gave Jack a read. I think most of us know a Jack-like character, gets in his own way most of the time and seem to implode whenever something good comes their way. I'd be interested to know where Jack goes from here. And Maya's going to need a Dr. Phil session or two. Gods and mortals, what comedic heaven! Thanks for your thoughts - mucho.


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Michał Przywara
20:40 Apr 24, 2023

Ah, that ending is fantastic :) I mean, not for our poor characters, but definitely for the story. It had all the makings of a sappy love-conquers-all story, but that wouldn't have been realistic, and I don't think it would have been fair to the struggles Jack went through either. If you're feeling down, "just be in love!" is terribly simplistic advice. And of course, love comes with its own ups and downs. Who knows? Maybe they'll patch things up one day. They're not hurting for lack of time. On a more meta level, the pairing of mental...


Susan Catucci
12:56 Apr 25, 2023

Ah, many thanks, Michal! Well, I think God was throwing Jack a bone here, if you can get someone to actually want to be with you, you can graduate early. Well, apparently love was never meant to be so simple and even the all-knowing can learn a thing or two. It also seems to beg for a follow-up as the plot indeed does thicken. We'll see if the right prompt comes along. Thanks again, Michal - so glad you liked! :)


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Philippa Hibberd
10:52 Apr 24, 2023

Aww, despite being a comedy, this manages to be sad in some ways. Jack's in a hell of his own making, stuck in his cycle of self pity, to the point that not even God or the angels can help him. Really hammers home the much-needed message that only you can help yourself. And that twist at the end was just as funny and sad in equal measures, with Maya ending up like Jack. That's what misanthropy can do - make you bitter and self-centered, which harms others, who in turn lose their faith in humanity and become bitter and self-centered, and so ...


Susan Catucci
12:14 Apr 24, 2023

What great feedback, Philippa, you hit all the nails on the head I was focused on. Just how do some people self-sabotage their own happiness and manage to get in their own way. There are reasons, usually, but looking in from the outside you can still scratch your head over why people do the nutty things they do. I'm glad this gave you something to think about. You certainly understand all I was trying to say. (And I really love the idea of an ex coming onto the scene.) Romcoms coming to you from Purgatory. Who would have thought?


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06:54 Apr 23, 2023

Great story. So many twists and turns to this. HIs "armor against amore" was indeed strong, but relatable. I wondered where this was going, great twist at the end! Hit the back to square one prompt dead on.


Susan Catucci
12:23 Apr 23, 2023

Thanks, Scott - means a lot to me when you have something to say. Took a ton of tweaking to get where it is but I really enjoy exploring thoughts of what's really going on here, there and everywhere, all the possible scenarios in life (before and after). I see people, especially in the courtroom, who seem to have ruined their lives in one or two easy steps and I often think about what really got them there. Now, there's food for thought!


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Delbert Griffith
13:52 Apr 21, 2023

Being relegated to Purgatory was a clever touch; it's a better setting than Hell for this tale, I think. I really liked where the story went, and I appreciated that Jack is on his way to being salvaged, but at the expense of Maya becoming Jack. That was priceless! Love the story, Susan. Absolutely love it. Funny, but with a message. My favorite type of tale. Great work, my friend! Cheers!


Susan Catucci
14:48 Apr 21, 2023

Thanks much, Del - but it wouldn't be the same tale without some valuable help from friends which made it far better than it was. I'm not sure why I get such a kick out of imagining gods and angels and devils and mortals on a playing field (almost said 'level') but I really do. I'm just happy I'm not the only one! Cheers back and happy Friday (wonder what's next to test our brain/ink coordination).


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Michelle Oliver
09:14 Apr 20, 2023

Poor Jack! Stuck in limbo, but so determinedly stuck. Kind of fixed in his own ways and so stubborn about it that he literally doesn’t really want salvation. The heavenly interplay was so amusing and I loved the angels with their respective strengths attempting to move Jack on… and having frustratingly little success. What is interesting is that love was the only thing that could make Jack become a better version of himself, yet that same love dragged Maya into a worse version of herself. Interesting what impact we can have on others for b...


Susan Catucci
18:59 Apr 20, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting, Michelle. I was thinking a Part 2 wouldn't hurt and might be fun to flesh out the story more. I was thinking now what would happen? Would Jack stay renewed or revert to his old, bitter ways. Can Maya be restored after taking on a challenge that proved too much for her and made her more human than she'd bargained for? God certainly has his hands full. I wonder what He'd try next? (Funny, your feedback was the first that had me thinking this way. Thanks, Michelle!)


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Viga Boland
23:01 Apr 19, 2023

How in heaven and earth do you come up with this stuff Susan? Such an enjoyable read. I was reading it while eating dinner and was so riveted my dinner went cold ‘cause I couldn’t stop long enough to take another bite! Fabulous humour and all delivered through delicious, fast-moving dialogue. You and I both wrote to the same prompt this week. So, I noticed, have several others. Always amazes me how many different stories arise from a single prompt. Excellent, as always!


Susan Catucci
23:09 Apr 19, 2023

Hi Viga - I share the sentiment. It floors me every time. The mind is one thing, the creative mind is something else entirely. You never know what to expect and that's a great thing. I once read that there is no bad art. This place sort of proves the point. You make my day every time, Viga, and I so appreciate the positive feedback. Reedsy is a great place to deposit all the pent-up inner thoughts on life and whatever else. It's a safe place (within reason) :)


Viga Boland
23:29 Apr 19, 2023



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RJ Holmquist
20:21 Apr 19, 2023

This was such an intriguing read. The story pulled me right in and I became invested in the "Jack" project. I loved the tone of the angels and God, and got a good chuckle out of Jack flustering them. "Purgatory, for Jack, consisted of AA meetings, sensitivity training, and weekly counseling sessions." This line did a lot of great work! It made me chuckle and it made me really want to see what else was going to happen in Purgatory. For what its worth, here is a constructive thought. Feel free to disregard of course. As a reader, I found...


Susan Catucci
20:33 Apr 19, 2023

Thanks, RJ - that is some great feedback. I appreciate what you suggested as to Maya. That's a very valid point and may benefit from a tweak. All your comments were helpful and I'm so glad you read and commented!


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Mary Bendickson
19:25 Apr 19, 2023

'“Thank about it, Jack' maybe 'think'? 'soul-sanitization' Good idea. Somewhat like 'sanctification', I presume. 'Abstinent Angels meetings' not your normal AA meetings. Tee, hee! 'serious armor against amore. So far, it doesn’t appear even a dent’s been made.”' Seriously;) I could go on. There were so many cute punny names and ideas. A tad irreverent a times but I believe God has a sense of humor. Look at His creations:) 'Lydia' is the name of my beautiful youngest granddaughter so of course I liked that one. Is often suggested we creat...


Susan Catucci
20:04 Apr 19, 2023

I'm glad to hear it, Mary. Writing is a bit like reading (and why wouldn't it be?) After engaging in a lot of serious business by way of a heavy read, you need a little fun, however you may prefer. I love silly business with some underlying things to ponder. Thanks for putting up with my punny business. Oh, and you caught a typo I hadn't yet; I'm grateful for that!


Mary Bendickson
20:22 Apr 19, 2023

Typos happen. Not only is my writing talent weak, my typing is the worse ever. Whatever was I thinking to make this my hobby?


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Lily Finch
18:33 Apr 19, 2023

Susan, there are a lot of characters in this story to go through to get to the main storyline. But after I got there, it was an entertaining and interesting concept for a story. The problems of Jack and the concept of venial versus mortal sins were intriguing. Being stuck in purgatory was also an added bonus. Someone being stuck there was also a nice twist. Thanks for the good read. LF6.


Susan Catucci
18:38 Apr 19, 2023

Thanks for taking the time to read and write, Lily. You know I appreciate your thoughts - if you had a little fun while reading, that makes my day. :)


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