Fantasy Fiction Happy

Joe was in between jobs. At least that's what he liked to say when the women he matched with on Bumble would ask what he did. He would also say he traveled a lot. All of these things were true. It was just with his line of work; only one person did the job at a time, and this was his off cycle. He had all his typical resources while not working, so he was not bored. He would be back working soon and taking advantage of this downtime, so why not make it fun with some cheeky dates and try out a few things he wanted to implement into his day job when he got back into it. 

On a chilly October evening, Joe mindlessly scrolled through the thousands of profiles on Bumble. He wasn't picky, but he knew the type of woman who wouldn't mind his line of work. They wouldn't be frustrated by the long hours and endless travel he would have to do in his 7-year cycles. It wasn't his first try at dating, but it was his first time doing it in the digital world. It was exciting and terrifying; he was surprised at how forward some people were and how quick others were to judge and unmatch. So far, he was not as lucky as he thought he would be.

He paused on a profile of a curvy and smiley brunette, Stef. She mentioned her love of fun, travel, loved her alone time, and exploring the unusual. With a mischievous grin, he swiped right and hoped there was a match. 

After checking the app countless times over the past few days, he was delighted to find over his morning cup of Joe that they were a match. Not even trying to play it cool, he struck up a conversation instantly. She was funny sweet, got all of his jokes, and even sent a few back his way that surprised him. She was brilliant and admitted her job was tedious, but she made up for it with travel and had a ton of weird hobbies, including making edible garments out of cheese. Her favorite movie was Mouse Hunt, go figure.

It wasn't long until they decided to meet in person around Halloween. Joe, with a flair for dramatics, suggested they visit a mysterious and potentially haunted mansion he found while driving around.

"Meet me at the mansion tomorrow night; I promise it will be a spooktacular time!" He said and heard the groan over the phone. They'd had a few phone dates, and she was already familiar with his slew of puns and dad jokes. 

"Promise me no spooktacular time, just a fun night where I don't get murdered," Stef said, and he could hear the smile on the other end. 

Hanging up after saying their goodbyes, he got to work. 

"If this is going to work, I can't half-ass it." He said to himself, and to work, he went. He'd planned this date out even before meeting her. He was just waiting for the right person.

He actually hadn't just happened upon this mansion. He picked living in this town on his time off because of this derelict manor. He had plans for it. And in this economy, it was a steal. He grabbed his coat and walked out, already giddy for tomorrow night.

To his utter nerdy surprise, Stef had dressed as a ghostbuster, Proton pack and all.

"I wanted to be prepared for whatever surprises might be lurking in there," Stef said as she hugged him.

"I'm embarrassed I didn't even think of dressing up." He looked down at his meticulously chosen date outfit of relaced jeans, a crewneck sweater, and his favorite worn leather jacket. He was going for a classic 90's Keanu Reeves look.

"Oh, I thought you were a character from 'Boy Meets World'." She smiled and nudged him.

"Yes, yes, I need a haircut. Attire aside, I'm thrilled you're here. I think it's going to be super fun!" They exchanged cheesy smiles and made their way to the big iron gate.

"Here we go." She said with a grunt as they pushed open the creaky gate and started through the fog-covered garden.

"Nice start. Did you put the order in for the fog?" Stef said, skimming her hands over the damp, overgrown hedges.

"Yeah, I know a guy," Joe said with a smirk. "Ready?" He asked as they stepped up to the front steps.

Opening the door, the house seemed to breathe with excitement of newcomers. They stepped in, and the door slammed shut with a dramatic flourish.

Stef's eyes widened, and she exclaimed, "Wow, guess they don't make haunted houses like they used to! Not a prolonged creak or a mysterious gust of wind."

Joe laughed nervously. He was determined to keep the surprise a secret for now. They wandered around the foyer until Stef turned to the first room.

It looked to be a library filled with books, and the space seemed to be untouched by the rough nature that had overtaken the garden and the foyer. 

"Go for broke? See if these lights work?" Stef said, and to her amazement, when she flipped the switch on the wall, dimly lit lamps flickered to life.

Going to the bookcases, she started reading off titles and became more excited with each one. 

"Harry Potter…Discovery of Witches…Alice in Wonderland…Faust…all of these books! It's like a haunted library of all my favorite reads!"

Gingerly, she stepped into the kitchen with a cheap covered table that reminded her of the one she used to do her homework on at her grandma's. She could almost smell the fresh cookies and lemonade her grandma put out in front of her at 4 p.m. every day. She smiled, and Joe caught the feeling of sweet nostalgia on her.

In the next room, they discovered a game room with a pool table and a vintage record player with stacks of records all over the room.

"What do ya say? A quick game of pool?" Joe asked and tossed her a cue.

Stef laughed and racked the balls. "This is crazy. My mom had our basement set up just like this. I even see the same Carol King anthology my mom had over there on the floor." 

Joe smiled and was secretly relieved that his plan was working so well.

Room after room, they walked into recreated scenes from Stef's past. From her childhood bedroom crowded with stuffed animals collected from every zoo she dragged her mother. To the cozy living room with a couch just like the one she was gently laid out on when she lost her virginity so sweetly to her high school boyfriend. To the bathroom with a shower that reminded her of the time she had to bathe her mother when she was too sick to do it herself. Sharing that memory with Joe, they ambled up the stairs.

"I remember she told me how proud she was of me and all I had done with my life. It was the last time she said she loved me before she became too sick to speak. I cherished that memory. And, of course, we sold the house after her passing." Stef wiped a tear and leaned into Joe.

"I'd forgotten about that moment." Shaking herself from the memory, she said, "Sorry, that caught me by surprise." She said, laughing nervously.

"No apologies necessary; I'm glad you could have that moment again." He said and hugged her. Genuinely empathetic to her experience. In his line of work, it was never an act. They all had genuine feelings for their clients.

On and on, they went from room to room. Their fear of the creepy mansion had slowly turned into a playful curiosity.

They giggled at the ballroom when they reached the top floor. "I'm not much of a dancer." Joe said, holding out his hand, "But I'd be an idiot not to take advantage of the chance to hold ya close when you're all nostalgic and happy."

Stef smiled and walked into his arms. As they danced around the ballroom in a terrible excuse for a waltz, Stef swore she could hear a neighbor playing 'Dream a Little Dream of Me' sung by Mama Cass.

"God, this was my grandma's favorite song," Stef said. And with a smile, Joe twirled her around and brought her close.

 Tilting her head up, he looked her in the eyes and sweetly kissed her.

"Yeah, that seemed right," Stef said, realizing they had stopped dancing.

At this point, Joe struggled to hide his true identity and career choice. Grabbing her hand and walking towards the next room, Stef tripped and fell. Or would have fallen if Joe hadn't instinctively caught her.

Stef suddenly realized this wasn't the first time an odd occurrence and coincidence had happened since they stepped into this house. A rogue chunk of wood fell from the ceiling on the stairs earlier, and he moved her before she even heard it. He grabbed her hand before she hit a rotted piece of floor that would have made her trip and fall. All these things came together at once on top of all the rooms being so significantly tied to her memories. It made her question everything about this night.

"Wait," Stef said with a suspicious look, "everything about this place, all these strange things, you and this mansion, somehow knowing so much about me…Joe, are you hiding something from me?"

Joe attempted surprise, hesitated for a moment, then sighed in defeat. He took a deep breath and sat her down on two chairs that had suddenly appeared behind them.

"Okay, Stef, yes. You caught me. I'm not just your Halloween Bumble date. I'm…an Angel of Death." He waited, but she didn't respond, "I bought this mansion. With budget cuts, we can't do the whole travel-through-time thing anymore, so we were tasked to find more creative and economical ways of sharing a person's memories with them before they are led to the afterlife. And with ESG reporting being all the rage, I thought, why not utilize something here on earth and scale it for use." He said and shrugged matter of factly before realizing, "Oh, and I promise I'm not here to take your soul. I just wanted to test it on someone who might find it fun and still like me after."

Stef's face was frozen in shock. "An Angel of Death? Are you serious? Don't you mean The Angel of Death?"

Missing the sarcasm, Joe responded, "That's a common misconception. There's no way one being could do all that work. There are several of us. I'm just in between shift cycles. We do it for 7 years on and 7 years off. Seven is a big number for the big guy."

Stef burst into laughter, disbelief washing over her. "Well, this isn't the worst date I've been on. I don't know if I believe you, but tonight, I got to feel and be reminded of some of the happiest times in my life. So whatever you are, thank you." 

Joe smiled with relief.

"But please know, if I don't call at least one of my girlfriends in the next 20 minutes, they will be here with cops," Stef said, "And I know krav maga."

Laughing, Joe responded, "Well, let's get out of here, and I'll leave you to it."

The eerie atmosphere seemed to lift as they walked out of the mansion. Stef reached for Joe's hand and looked up at him.

"You're buying me the biggest glass of whiskey at dinner," Stef said as she texted her friend group chat that he wasn't a murderer. He was actually an angel.

With a blush, Joe squeezed her hand, "And dessert."

"Damn straight." She paused and looked back at the mansion and smiled. They continued to walk down the road hand in hand to their cars. 

The iron gates happily swung close and eagerly awaited their next new friend.

September 23, 2023 17:52

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Kathryn Kahn
21:24 Oct 05, 2023

What a great character, and what an imaginative premise!


Laura Ethington
01:47 Oct 06, 2023

Thank you!!


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Kailani B.
16:23 Oct 04, 2023

Wow! I figured there was a twist coming, but that's not what I expected. Good job!


Laura Ethington
18:40 Oct 04, 2023

Hey, thanks!!!


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