The chair creaked and moaned as he dropped into it with a heartfelt sigh stretching his legs out in front of him. He pulled off his leather gauntlets and dropped them on the side table then pushed his hood back and rubbed his face in an attempt to rub his fatigue away. There was a clink as a full tumbler of whisky over ice was set down on the table.
“Thank you, Michael,” he said, his voice full of the fatigue he felt.
“Your welcome Samael. Rough night?”
“I really hate All Hallows Eve,” he replied, picking up the glass and taking a healthy swallow. “It has gotten worse the last fifty years or so. Busier and busier every year. I’m not getting any younger, well none of us are, but I’m beginning to struggle to get it all done on my own.”
“Well, there are more of them each year,” said Michael.
“It’s not just that. Those ‘you know who’ be damned moving picture thingies they watch all the time are behind it you mark my words. That and this new-fangled ‘inter wotsit’. Of course, they also seem to be getting stupider all the time as well, if that’s possible,” Samael said with a sigh before continuing.
“I thought those two episodes last century when they were killing each other in droves all around the world was the zenith of their insanity worse than that American fiasco but at least you could gather a multitude up in one go. Now they are all over the place and it’s all the time. Have you heard about the Darwin Awards? Unbelievable!” He shook his head and emptied his glass in a single swallow, closed his eyes and let his breath out in a whoosh. “That’s good stuff! Where did you get it?”
Michael grinned as he passed the decanter over to Samael for a refill, “Islay, a new distillery there, it is pretty good. Give it a couple of years and it will be great,” he said.
“Do they have a couple of years?” asked Samael doubtfully, as he poured himself a healthy portion from the decanter and passed it back.
“They should have, I’ve not heard there’s been any changes to plans for ‘the day’. At least not on our end of things. If they blow themselves up… well that’s a different thing, I guess. ‘HE’ might not be too pleased about it, though he’d only have himself to blame, self-determination and all that. I wonder? If I took him a case of this, would he intervene? Perhaps just save Islay?”
“Difficult to know, depends on his mood I suppose. You might get ‘Junior’ to put in a word I suppose. Me, I’d take the ‘HG’ a barrel of this. He’s the one who’d have the most chance of influencing ‘HIM,’” said Samael.
“You’re probably right,” said Michael gloomily. “So how many did you collect tonight?”
“I lost count somewhere, around Cape Town I think,” replied Samael.
“That bad?” asked Michael in surprise.
“Oh, you would not believe it! Let me tell you about a few of them…”
Sakai Seiji lay panting, wondering how he had been so stupid. How had he tripped over the dog like that? He’d gone outside with the damned dog to make sure he did his ‘business’ before bed and tripped over him when he suddenly turned and shot back into the house. Now he was hoping someone would walk past that he could call out to for help. Someone who would help him off of the blasted devil’s trident he’d landed on. One of his wife’s stupid Halloween decorations.
Stupid American custom! No one ever came to their door for sweets or chocolate. All their neighbours thought them mad. This was the last year he would allow it. He was suddenly aware that there was a presence at the top of the steps and he looked up expecting to see his wife, her hands clasped to her face in horror that he’d bent her stupid trident. Instead, he saw a tall figure in some kind of hooded robe staring down at him. There was darkness where the face should be with just two slightly glowing red points far back in the shadows. Sakai Seiji felt cold, then very tired as with his remaining breath he whispered a name, Shinigami!
Jathibiyya Jaswinder felt tears trickling down her cheeks but that was all. There was nothing else, no other feeling anywhere in her body. She could not move, not her arms, her legs, her toes, fingers, nothing. Couldn’t even feel her chest rising and falling. She tried to call out but no sound came from her throat. She could see her feet above her, one slippered, the other bare on the second to top step.
She knew her head was on the damp path at the bottom of the stairs she could at least feel the chill on her scalp, while above her the leering face of the carved gourd she had made with her daughter that afternoon stared down dispassionately. There was a movement on the veranda, had her husband come home early? Her eyes widened as she saw the figure that stood above her. Garima rīpara she thought as her vision dimmed.
Piet Van Den Heever tried again to loosen the noose around his neck, his fingers scrabbling at the slip knot behind his left ear, while his toes pushed against the leaf covered grass beneath the tree in his parent’s garden in Cape Town. He had only put his head in the noose as a joke, trying to scare his little sister, then his foot slipped and now, now he couldn’t breathe and his sister had gone back indoors crying.
As he groped at his neck, trying to loosen the rope he saw a dark figure sat on the garden table, feet on the bench, chin resting on a fist, elbow on knee. It was watching him with interest. He knew that, even though he couldn’t see a face under the cowl of the black robe, just two faint red glimmers deep inside. ‘Doodsengel’ he thought, Gott! Ist ‘Doodsengel’!
Hortense Roux loathed Halloween night. When she was a young girl, it was a night to stay at home in the warm not go traipsing about in the dark begging for sweets and playing wicked tricks when they weren’t forthcoming. Nasty little brutes most of those who knocked on her door. Not that she ever answered the door at night, and especially not on this night.
She blamed the Americans for introducing this horrible idea to France. They had no concept of what the night truly meant, none at all. They had forgotten their roots and the hard-won knowledge of their ancestors. She leant on her cane and flicked the switch to boil the kettle for a café. Hortense waited patiently for the water to heat. The kettle, like her, was old and cantankerous and seemed to take for ever before it switched off.
As Hortense stretched out her arm to pick up the kettle, she caught a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye. The cat she thought and turned her head in that direction. She gasped in fear as she saw the tall figure draped in a cowled black robe stood in the doorway and her lips formed the word Faucheuse as intense pain ripped through her chest and she collapsed to the floor.
Thirteen-year-old, Billy Crawford sat down on his bed in his parent’s house on Connecticut Drive and huffed out his breath in pleasure as he upended the pillowcase onto the coverlet. He sniffed and closed his eyes as the aroma of chocolate filled his nostrils. This had been a really good year, the best ever he judged, looking at the pile of bars, wrapped chocolates, suckers, lollipops and chews of every flavour. Going out early on his own had paid off. Boy had it paid off. He’d never had this many treats in previous years when he’d gone trick or treating with his brother.
He idly spread the treasure to take it all in. Wrappers of every colour and hue bedazzled his eyes. His hand hovered above them as he tried to decide which one to pick first then darted down and almost blindly, he picked up a peanut filled chocolate bar, tore off the wrapper and bit down on it. He closed his eyes in bliss as the chocolate coated his tongue, teeth crunching on the peanuts. He chewed slowly at first then faster as the sweetness trickled down his throat and he moaned in pleasure. In almost no time the bar was gone and he selected a chew, unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth.
For the next thirty minutes he methodically worked his way through the pile on the bed with a single mindedness that he rarely brought to other endeavours. His stomach had a noticeable bulge and he surprised himself with a loud burp. He sat for a moment eyeing the much-reduced pile of booty and felt a first quiver of nausea. He swallowed the saliva that had rushed into his mouth and burped again then held his hand to his mouth as the nausea rose in the back of his throat. He closed his eyes and fought to control the welling urge to throw up before clamping his lips shut and with hands over his mouth raced for the bathroom.
He almost made it. If he hadn’t slipped on the rug just outside the bathroom door he would have been fine, but the rug shot out from under him as he tried to swing through the doorway and he found himself falling towards the tub face first. His forehead slammed against the rim of the bath and his vision greyed out as he slid to the floor.
Groggy he tried to get up but only managed to get to hands and knees before collapsing to the floor. He sensed someone was watching him and he turned his head from side to side then tried to rise again. There was a dark shape over by the shower cubicle and he tried to focus and raise his hand in a silent plea for help but the movement unbalanced him and he ended up almost flat on his back. He tried to speak but his mouth, nose and throat was filling with the sour taste of vomit. He looked imploringly to the figure he’d seen and his eyes opened wide in terror as he took in the black robe and cowl, the long, curved blade atop the tall pole resting on the figure’s shoulder. As he drowned in vomit the name for the figure watching him so impassively came to mind, the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper had come for him.
Samael emptied his glass and gave Michael a weary smile and shrugged before speaking.
“There were plenty of others of course. Lots actually. The usual number of murders, suicides, victims of war, crime, passion or accident, but tonight there were many who died from plain stupidity, often their own. In fact usually their own,” he sighed and shook his head.
“The multiple deaths from battles and the like are the easy ones, the Valkyries have usually done a good job and got them all rounded up ready for me and it’s just a quick…” he gestured with his free hand, “snip and they’re on their way. Planes, trains and pile ups on the motorways, are the same, Shipwrecks the selkies and dolphins do the work. It’s the solo ones that take the time. If I’m too early they see me and that can alter events. Too late and they get in a state and won’t listen and it drags on. The singles are the ones that are taking all my time, too much time really, there’s just so many of them now,” he shook his head despairingly.
Michael got up and refreshed their glasses. He was about to sit down again when Archangel Pravuil entered the room crossed over to them and dropped into an empty chair waving a sheath of paper at Samael.
“Well, that’s a new record Samael, at least without a major war,” he said cheerfully, ignoring the expressions on the faces of the other two. “One hundred and ninety-two thousand, three hundred and fifty seven in one night.”
Samael just grunted at this announcement and drank from his glass.
“Do you want me to speak to ‘Junior’?” Michael asked. “Or ‘HIM’?”
Samael thought about it for a moment then shook his head. “I’d best do it myself. That’s if I can get to see ‘HIM’ of course. You know what ‘HE’ has been like since the towers,” Samael said gloomily. “‘HE’ really hasn’t said anything about the date changing?” he asked looking between the two.
“Not to me,” said Pravuil. “Then again Records are always the last to hear. If ‘HE’ hasn’t told you Michael, has he told Gabriel?”
“I don’t think he has told anyone anything for a long time. Gabriel is off playing jazz on his trumpet in the bars in New Orleans. Apollo, Khrishna, Neptune and Ezekiel are hot rodding in their chariots somewhere. Odin, Thor and Jupiter are in Vegas cheating at cards and roulette. Mo is trying to work out how he gets a new message to the faithful that stops them committing all these atrocities in his name. Buddha is meditating and refuses to speak to anyone. Junior seems to be the most confused of the lot. It’s all turning to shit and ‘HE’ seems to have lost interest. I really don’t understand why he hasn’t moved the date up and pulled the plug,” said Michael bitterly.
“Peter?” asked Samael.
Michael shook his head and Pravuil snorted in disgust or amusement.
“Peter has been drunk for the last six months,” said Michael. “Blind drunk, if he wasn’t already dead, the booze he drinks every day would kill him. He knows how to tie one on! He’s got Francis of Assisi manning the gate.”
“What’s Lucifer got to say?” asked Samael. “He’s been getting a fair share of them recently. A majority now that I think about it, ISIS and the Taliban might be misguided but that’s no excuse under the rules.”
“He’s not answering the phone,” Michael said simply. “So, you see it’s pretty much all round. If we’re not careful there will be a new bunch of Fallen.”
“Sitting playing Cribbage most of the time, they don’t really need to get involved down there at the moment,” said Pravuil.
“They’re not behind the Pandemic?” asked Samael. “I wondered why I hadn’t had an update that it was coming.”
“That’s all Gaea, she’s really pissed at the moment. So, she came up with that, along with the earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, fires and volcanoes. That one in Japan came close to contaminating the atmosphere for a long time. I think she thought the sea would do a better job for her, Chernobyl was her but she messed up somewhere,” said Michael.
“I’d be wasting my time to try and speak to ‘HIM’ then?” said Samael gloomily.
“Yep,” chorused Michael and Pravuil.
Samael glared at them and their beaming faces but in the end he snorted and smiled himself. He swigged from his glass and savoured the taste of the whisky in his mouth before swallowing. He looked at his almost empty glass and held it out to Michael who smiled and picked up the carafe which was once again full. When all three had full glasses, they settled back contentedly. Michael waved a negligent hand and the fireplace flared with flames.
They sat in a comfortable silence for a while sipping on the malt whisky contemplating the logs which were never consumed by the flames flickering among them.
“Have you had your invite from Nick yet?” asked Pravuil idly.
“Not yet,” replied Michael.
“No,” said Samael.
“He said last year he wasn’t going to do a party ever again,” mused Pravuil.
“He’s too much of a party animal to stop them,” said Michael with a smile.
“I really don’t know how he manages to keep up with the numbers,” said Samael.
“Must be worse than me.”
He can thank the Internet and all that social Media crap for that,” said Pravuil. The Heavenly Records department had computerised twenty years ago and was the most technologically advanced.
“Each year the kids stop believing in him at a younger age. He’ll need a much bigger Miracle on 34th street to reverse that trend,” agreed Michael. “That helps with the numbers and a lot of the little shits don’t make it onto his nice list either. He’s farmed out a lot of deliveries to Amazon of course and he’s got his wife and elves. I can’t see that helping you much.”
“I’m not the marrying kind!” Samael chuckled.
There was silence for a while as they sipped on their drinks and stared at the fire. At last Samael sighed deeply and chuckled.
“What is it they say? We’re screwed?”
The other two nodded. Samael sighed again nodding.
“Where should I advertise for apprentices? I need one, maybe two, so does Charon, he needs a bigger boat too.”
“Craig’s list, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, JobServe?” said Pravuil. “I’ll help you if you’d like.”
Samael nodded his thanks and the three returned to their contemplation of the fire, filling their glasses from time to time from the decanter which never emptied.