The Company Man

Story written by tylerahardin on Monday 13, August 2007

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Beware the deals you make, for salvation may be fleeting

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Chapter One:
My name is Riley Coffert and I am now 82 years old. Now, upon seeing me and hearing such a claim you would have Baker Acted my ass and sent me straight to the state hospital in MacClenny so fast that you would have set some kind of land speed record. Why would I make such a claim? Well, lets just get the details out of the way first. I was born in 1925 and grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. In the twenties through the forties Jacksonville was a vast lush land with the winding St. Johns Rivers weaving through. I grew up in what is now called the Westside in the area to one day be known as Argyle but back then it was just country. My family was poor but happy in our little shack. My meager dwellings were fitting enough considering we lived in the poor side of town that everyone else called "Shantytown". I grew up into a handsome and athletic young man but not quite aware of my good looks. Always fishing, swimming in the creeks or hunting with my dog Arthur (or Arty as he was better known), rifle in hand within the dense swamps and forests of Northeast Florida. The year was 1942 and I was 17. That year there some reports of some wild dogs or maybe a boar that had gone rabid and was goring livestock that lived on the farms bordering the forests and swamps. Some of the older folk were talking about the mysterious monsters that supposedly came right out of myths and landed in the various wilds I was tromping through. I never paid attention to superstition, I just wanted to hunt. On this particular day I was going after game such as duck, geese and the occasional otter. In those days in mid summer it was not unusual to have to wait out a mid afternoon downpour underneath some ancient canopy which is what Arty and I did on this particular day. Once the rain lifted and the commotion from the lightning moved on east towards the river I stepped out from underneath the canopy and cut man shaped swaths into the rising and rolling steam blanket that rose from the saturated ground. I brought my oak stock rifle to my armpit and walked casually in the mud and through the palmetto bushes. Upon entering the brush where perhaps only Indians known as the Timiqua had treaded before, I felt the air change and thought to myself, "There are no dark clouds above why the change?" But Arty knew why. Arty was a young dog but a seasoned vet in the protecting his family and fetching the game business. At 6 years of age he was a German Sheppard who loved the Coffert family dearly. As for my relationship with him, well he and I were comparable to nothing at the time but some years later the actor Tom Hanks would utter that retarded line "We were like peas and carrots". I hated that line when I heard it but Ol' Forrest was right. Arty and I just fit. As we entered the underbrush Arty stepped ten feet into the thick and froze in mid jaunt. The water of a nearby pond was flooded at about ankle level and the leeches had begun to search for their next sucker. Directly ahead of me the thick grass moved against the gentle breeze. I felt the electricity pick up again as I brought the stock to my shoulder and pulled tight, caressing the trigger like I would with the women I would one day bed. Just as I brought the sights eyelevel a blur of blackness and teeth enveloped me. The only thing that saved my jugular from the initial attack was the barrel of the rifle. Immediately I smelled the rotting flesh of some poor mammal that had the unfortunate fate of someday being panther shit. I began to panic. "It's a panther ohmygodohmygod a huge black panther is going to maul me to death!" While the fangs were inches away the claws dug into my pectoral muscles. Drool from the animal blinded me as it swung its head to and fro. I felt like I was going to faint and I was sure that an hour had passed but in reality it was only seconds. As I felt the whiskers of this massive beast on me Arty decided to break his own paralysis and spring into action. Arty's deep heroic barks erupted and I saw him rearing back on his haunches preparing to strike. The panther took no apparent notice with the exception of his all knowing eyes flicking towards Arty's general direction. In the moments before Arty launched himself like a canine cannonball with jaws that could break the neck of a bobcat the animal and I locked our gaze. I know a panther is incapable of speech but this one spoke in a low harsh whisper "Man-kitten, dash not ... they come for you. Better ... for one to wish ... extinguishing ...your flame after tasting ...a life such as this!" As the last syllable left its lips the claws of the beast dug in deeper but were then ripped free of my pectorals. I rolled onto my side and twin lanes of fiery pain began throbbing up to each side of my chest. I panicked as I saw the white cotton shirt my mother made turn scarlet in a way that makes a tomato appear opaque. I rolled my head over to the commotion to my left and saw that Arty and the panther were rolling in a ball of blood and fury. Arty had his teeth dug into the throat and shoulder of my potential killer. The feline, which outweighed Arty by a good thirty pounds, flung his body all around as though it was the bull and Arty was 8 seconds away from a million dollars. Arty held on for dear life and as he applied more pressure the bull reincarnated into the body of a panther threw himself backwards. I never saw what actually pierced Arty's lung but if I was to guess I would say that it was probably a jagged root that had been exposed for months following a massive storm. Even if the panther hadn't finished him off that certainly would have. As soon as they hit I heard Arty yelp and I knew it was over for him. He lay there while that black son of a bitch circled him in an almost figure eight due to his own injuries and blood loss. Arty near death and in the worst pain I have ever seen him in snapped his jaws and frothed with the effort of a creature circling the drain. Although the panther was injured he was still capable of extreme power at critical moments. In a blur reminiscent of the initial attack the panther buried its fangs deep into the belly of my trusted friend and came up with a mouthful of dangling entrails. Thirty five years later a chill would run up my spine when at the age of six months my son, who had not quite mastered the art of eating neatly, would out of sheer delight plunge his face in the spaghetti and squeal with joy as the marinara drenched noodles went everywhere. That moment of childhood joy for my son left me in a crying mess in the kitchen. Once I saw that the predator was actually enjoying his kill is the moment the shock wore off. With the jagged etches from the fangs still bright and distracting on the barrel, I reached for the rifle. This wounded animal, this hulking beast that in a condescending voice sent me a not so veiled threat, looked up with Arty's blood on his face as though he was some deranged Eric the Red/Panther hybrid. He mouthed the words "Be seein ya...mankitten" and roared. With the little bit of strength left I threw the rifle up, aimed center mass and blew his damned head apart After I fired the headslitting shot I passed out. When I came to it was well into the night and the mosquitoes were out feeding on me and the other two. The damn mosquitoes were big. I only woke up after I felt one of them, that was getting a good buzz off of one of the canyons of flesh that still held the reservoirs of coagulated blood, flit around. I snatched that one up and alerted the four or five others having one hell of a luau at the expense of yours truly that the jig was up and prepared myself to face the music. Arty, much like I remembered was nothing but gore. The panther was missing the top quarter of its brain. "You got off lucky you piece of shit", I thought. I began to wonder what I would do with Arty's carcass. I made the decision to bundle him up in my cotton shirt and carry what was left of him home on my back. After securing Arty I turned to my almost dispatcher. A rage bubbled inside of me and I let loose the worst set of words a teen in the fourties would have said. "FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING SHIT!" I then started the four mile trek back to the Coffert farm where no doubt the folks would be worried. About halfway home I saw my father with a lantern on the old mare Martha that served as my mother's horse. I heard him crying out for me and that scared me but it also flooded me with relief. Dad, a normally stoic man, was clearly weeping and after my explanation, which was conveniently missing the part about the panther's vocalization, he put me up on the horse. He then gathered up Arty and led us home. Upon our arrival my mother cried like I had never seen. We buried Arthur, everyone had a good cry and we went on with life. There are days when I still miss my hunting partner and the reason I am still alive. I do wish he could be here but I am sure he is hunting with the Man himself right now. Mother cared for my wounds and over the next several days she monitored my health like an auditor from the IRS. During my convalescence I grew tired of my once happy home. The farm and the surrounding area no longer held my interest. I wanted to live and quite frankly I felt I hadn't lived enough I wanted out of Jacksonville and I was like most young men caught up in the patriotic fervor of World War II. I decided I wanted to be the best at defending my country, so with confidence I joined the USMC. Chapter 2: I am not going to rehash the old "boy goes to boot camp becomes a man" story because frankly it is not worth telling. As rough as basic training was at Parris Island, SC I wasn't like most of the boys. I was poor. I mean really poor. Supposedly America had pulled itself out of the Depression. Well sir, not my family. Having anything more than 3 changes of clothes was a luxury and while I wasn't poorly educated like some of the black boys in the platoon I wasn't one of the ones who went beyond the 10th grade. Like I said, the whole experience wasn't life changing due to the mantra my father instilled at home: put the needs of the family above the needs of the self. The Marines were a lot like that and from what I understand they are still the same. My time as a leatherneck wasn't all that remarkable. I was successful and after a year and half I was in charge of my fire team as a Corporal and by the time I got to go train for a "big mission" in Hawaii I was in charge of the whole squad. When we got on the ship we found out we were bound for Iwo Jima and I had just pinned on Sergeant. Man, I have never felt more proud than at that moment. I was filled with a sense of duty and as the days wore on I'd like to think my subordinates followed my lead. The men under my command, excuse me, the boys under my command were first rate. There was Felix Jasper from Columbus, Ohio he used to rave about playing baseball in the open fields of his hometown. That little bastard used to talk about how fast he could pitch. That kid was all of nineteen years old. Dante Morviegn, age twenty, the young man from a mill town in Michigan who used to talk about all the little girls he would diddle when he would get home from this operation. I found out later he died a virgin. Ramon Spector was the 1st fire team leader from Garland, TX who would round up the cattle for his uncle's slaughterhouse and talk about the way cows would crap one last big turd as that sledge hammer cracked 'em directly between the eyes. At 18 he was very green. Dennis Morley, age twenty one, was my 2nd fire team leader and my right hand man. He was a Yankee from the borough of Queens. Most would mistake him for a black man but his roots actually were from Honduras. Some of the country boys, who reminded me of the stupidest ones from Jacksonville, tried to give 'em shit but ol' Dennis would give them one quick as lightening tap to the jaw and a piston like punch to the ribs and those bastards would drop like a ton of bricks. Hell, I usually even had Doc Hurlock, the Navy Corpsman from Vacaville, CA hanging around. He dressed like a shitbag in his uniform but man when I needed someone to patch up my boys he was the man for the job. It was February 1945 when we set off. The nearly three weeks spent on the water en route to Iwo was spent cleaning weapons to the point of what in the 1980's would probably be known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Mainly the men were just trying to pass the time. When going over our assignments to memorize the landing on what was called Green Beach I even took to saying the commands that prefaced each movement in pig Latin but the boys never missed a beat in rehearsal. Unfortunately none of that mattered when it came down to it. The first group that landed either drowned or waited for a long while until the fighting started. But that was the plan that the entrenched and hidden Japs had all along. When the fighting actually started it was like shooting fish in a barrel. Christ, all of those boys gone without firing a single shot. When we, the third wave to hit Iwo, landed the previous Marines' numbers were decimated. I stepped into chest deep crimson water with Matt Preston, the new Lance Corporal, to my right and Dennis to my left leading his group. We were approximately 20 yards from the black sand that was the beach. Slowly moving our way forward I turned and saw that my squad was ok, but straggling. I hollered orders to the fire team leaders and everyone but James Yon the 3rd fire team leader heard but soon the orders were passed. As I turned to Ramon I saw just for a second that black coated son of a bitch in the water and I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought to myself "Is that the panther?" I stared, lost watching him move quicker than he had before and with speed supernatural. It was as if this beast was something not resembling a panther at all. He was even shaped slightly different. He was crouched over like Cro-Magnon man. He started off moving as a blur claws splayed out in a killer fashion drooling and panting about the necks of my men. His had his mouth open and his teeth, if you could all them that, we shaped liked those of a feline but they looked like stained glass. I thought to myself "This isn't happening, you are dead I watched your brains turn into a splatter on the palmetto bushes!" But he was there alright and none of my men could see him. By this time I was standing dumbfounded in the surf with mortars hitting all around me. I could hear the men screaming and I was being yelled at but all of the volume was muted and the commotion very confusing. Right before the shell of some hire powered machine gun blew the head off of Felix Jasper (and I do mean the split second) Mr. Panther clawed at Felix's neck but he didn't tear at the flesh. I can only guess it was his soul. As he consumed the essence of Felix we again locked gazes. "Told-a Man seeyin ya 'cept ...ya kitten no longer! The present-a chaos delightful no? Be patient...when I finish...we will have de talk!" After I witnessed Felix become lost in a pool of blood I lost sight of the panther. Dennis brought me back to Earth telling me it was a slaughter out there and we had to get to the beach now. I snapped back and led the charge onto the beach head and took cover below a birm that had been carved out after repeated mortars and grenades. The rest of that afternoon consisted of huge explosions, cries of pain and gathering the dead or injured into the triage area. While waiting to be evacuated a lot of my boys were shot or died due to their injuries. The Japs were merciless and not at all kind as the Marines advanced onto the hell that was Iwo. I even heard a rumor about a kid everyone called Iggy. He went missing early in the battle and was found several days later dead and tortured. They found his penis severed and in his mouth. There are certain pockets of hell reserved for those motherfuckers. Day 2 on the island brought more fighting as we attempted to take Mt. Surabachi. Surbachi was an ugly spot of a mountain that rose high off of the island floor to the sky. It looked like an infected blemish, yellow and stinking of sulfur. The Japanese were entrenched in caves throughout the island but in the mountain they became part of it. They would have snipers camouflaged in the wisps of rough grass and you knew it was only a matter of time before your all American ass ate that bullet. I was leading the six remaining men out of the twenty that set out from my squad on the armored vehicles up the beach towards that mountain. We had not heard from the Japanese mortars most of the afternoon. As soon as we had approached the top of the birm on the beach some small arms fire cut Dante nearly in two. He was dead before he dropped on his back. The doc and I were attempting to pull his lifeless body when my world got real loud. SHRAKABOOM! I felt hot fire shoot on me and as I was in the air I saw that damn feline again. This time he was looking up at me standing next to what was Dante's body, now it was just a bloody pudding. While flying in the air the panther licked his lips and grinned and in his grin I saw that he no longer had panther teeth but the teeth of a man intermixed with some feline incisors. I landed face down in the beach sand. All I could hear was the thump of my own pulse which was quickly diminishing. Doc rolled me over and I felt the warmth in my body fade like water going down a drain. He looked at me and cried. I heard several phrases but no coherent conversation. "Sucking chest wound.........TWO POPS OF MORPHINE! TWO!.........bleeding him? OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod where are his ribs? Hold the pressure Dennis! Fucking cowards...... Christ fix his damn legs they aren't supposed to be like that!" I could feel the breath of the men around me and I could smell the copper odor that was my own blood. Then, time froze; it stopped just as Doc put the last syringe into my hip. I felt a sensation of rising. I could look around but I wasn't using my eyes. I had 360 degrees of sight yet I was facing just one direction. I thought to myself, "What in the world is going on here?" in disbelief. I then became aware of that son of a bitch again. I turned and noticed that this time he looked more like a man than anything else. He greeted me but not in that menacing way. He smiled and still the incisors were there but noticeably smaller. He had lost that annoying manner of speaking and spoke to me in a very friendly manner. Panther looked to me to be a white man in his mid forties with jet black hair, a slight goatee on his chin and wild eyes. He had a casual smile about him and an air of indifference as well as a birthmark on his left hand. "Hello, Riley." He spoke this line like were we close friends as opposed to two creatures whose unlikely paths crossed at some point that felt like eons ago. "Oh my, you have grown into quite the strapping young lad. I am glad to say son that the time has arrived for you and I to discuss a business proposition." he said with a slight bow. I attempted to speak but nothing emerged. The dark haired gentleman who used to be a panther that I killed ages ago laughed but it sounded like the purring of a giant cat. "Sonny, you are no longer corporeal, all you have to do is do this" with that comment he gestured towards his head. He spoke with an easiness that made me uneasy give my current situation. "Riley, first allow me to introduce myself. I am Bradley Kimbrough of Savannah, Georgia. I was born June 7th, 1800, any further questions?" "No sir", I thought. "Now that the introductions are through let me tell you what we are here to do. I, my good young Marine, am here to offer you the opportunity of SEVERAL lifetimes. I am sure you remember our unfortunate encounter in the swampy forest outside of Jacksonville? I know I sure do, ha ha." He rubbed his head as he laughed. "I recall you killing my dog and enjoying it you sick bastard." I said. "Yes, Riley I did do that and while that was a desperate time for me it is the moment that led me to here. After you dispatched me with that swell rifle of yours I did not fade away into the heavens or descend into the lake of fire as you might have thought. No, rather I was in the void where I was given further knowledge that my "benefactors" liked what I had done with what had been bestowed upon me. "Son, I am like I said currently 145 years of age." he said. "Well, if that's the case you must have some great genes Mr. Kimbrough because you don't look a day over 45." I thought/said. "Well you are a bright one son, but my age and physical condition are hardly connected now. Riley, my benefactors want me to extend an offer that many people have accepted. Many people who had the strong sense of independence, who valued life and all that they can do or not do with it, as well as natural leaders have taken this offer and done some of their best work. Michelangelo, Socrates, Ben Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln are part of our club. My benefactors have seen the same qualities in you and want you to join us." He said with the tone of someone who spoke out of personal experience. "Mr. Kimbrough why in the hell would I buy any of your bullshit in the first place? You tried to kill me and you ate my dog. Is there any offer that will make me forget how you almost slaughtered me?" I said. "Riley, I hope that you listen and clear your mind from that past event. I'd really like to offer you an opportunity. It's either what I have to offer or see how well a review of your life with Him might look right about now. ", he calmly explained pointing upward. "Him? Do you mean God? Why would I have to do that?" I nervously asked. And then Bradley Kimbrough brought to my attention the one thing in the world that you never want to hear if you don't already know. "Son, look at that group of men gathered there. We both know who those men are and we know the identity of the one they are gathered around." My 360 degree view focused and I became a little more aware of my new found sight. I saw that the name patch was burnt and bloodied on the uniform had Coffert on it. I knew then that I was dead. My lifeless body was covered from chin to knees in blood. My face was burnt and my chest crumpled in an odd kind of way that made me think of the paper balls we used to throw in school. I had a hole the size of a grapefruit in my chest near my sternum and in the position I was lying in I could see that the ribs that should have been on my left side near my back were missing. In their place was a gaping hole in which my organs lay partially exposed and touching the sand. I screamed/projected/thought "How did this happen, how am I still here, is this real?" I soon "felt" a hand on my "shoulder". Mr. Kimbrough attempted to comfort me. He said in a soft tone. "Yes, Riley I am sad to say this is real, a Japanese shell hit you in the chest and came out your left side. As you can see currently you are in no shape to get up and fight the enemy. It is also fair to say young man that you will never see your home again. You will never taste food, drink or feel anything again. Not in this state you won't no sir." "In this STATE? How dare you refer to my death as a STATE! It feels pretty fucking permanent to me!" I screamed. I saw a look in his wild eyes that I didn't care for. His eyes flicked at me and I could clearly see the irises were that of a panther again. With unequivocal authority he boomed at me with his "voice". "RILEY COFFERT I AM NOT SOMEONE TO TRIFLE WITH! I AM HERE TO GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE YOU COULD EVER RECEIVE! Are you not willing to at least hear me out?" A very scared and weak "yes" escaped my mind. He then proceeded to sell me on the best and worst thing in my life to date. Bradley explained that he indeed was 145 years old. He said that in the year 1832 he was spending his family's fortune (that was made by his father 30 years earlier through land acquisition, sales and leasing) wildly. He was having mass orgies, week long drinking binges and doing a wonderful job of besmirching the prominent name of Kimbrough. His father thoroughly tired of his gallivanting and squandering of the family money, demanded that Bradley take a position on the shipping vessel Ave Maria or be disowned. Bradley's father did this in hopes to make his son more of a hard working man as opposed to this 32 year old socialite. This vessel was owned by the shipping magnate Strom Dillingsly, a good friend of the elder Kimbrough. The Ave Maria made regular trips to ports in Louisiana and Texas as well as the Caribbean. At first Bradley hated the idea that he should have to report to someone that he felt superior to namely, the captain, John H. Finley. Finley was much older than Bradley and did not tolerate his holier than thou attitude. He put him to work and slowly broke him down. Finley remade him into the man the elder Kimbrough was proud of. Soon the regimen appealed to Bradley and after three years he was promoted to first mate and relished his time at sea and in the various exotic ports. On one such trip to the Cayman Islands to unload cargo and pick up some rare items there, the Ave Maria hit a massive hurricane. After the sails were lost to the battering winds the crew drifted for days, first living off of their rations and then they took to fishing. After two weeks they ran out of fresh water and the fishing yielded very little. Soon the men began to starve. Rather than die of starvation a lot of the men committed suicide. As the bodies piled up some even tried to start a mutiny and in the end no one could put up much of a fight considering that Bradley and the captain held all the muskets and pistols in the captain's quarters at the aft. But the captain, being a man in his late fifties and of poor health soon passed away. The remaining 5 crew members abandoned Bradley in the middle of the night on the last rowboat. He spent the next 48 hrs praying to God and the Angels for death. As he weakened and baked in the sun Bradley actually did see something but it sure wasn't an angel. As with many ships in those days there were many "domesticated" cats aboard that were brought to keep the rat population down. The men had tried to hunt them for food at some point when everything turned bad but being the crafty creatures that they were, they hid. Bradley had not seen them for some time but soon as he started to drift towards death, he saw them emerge from the cracks. The felines were squeezing out of almost impossible crevices and made their way to the newly dead men still aboard. The black one that everyone had labeled Pilate raced to the bloated corpse of the oldest man in crew, Shamus Langley, who had died of thirst. Pilate jumped up on his chest and gazed deeply in to Shamus' half opened eyes and began a low growl. He hissed but the hiss seemed to come from outside him not inside. The noise seemed to have no volume at all but boomed none the less. He then saw Pilate display his claws and dig them into what he thought was Shamus' neck. But I knew already what Mr. Kimbrough was going to say next. The disbelieving Bradley Kimbrough saw as Pilate once just a rat catcher morphed into a man sized cat demon stooping low. Pilate the monster ripped the soul from Shamus' body and devoured it. When he was finished he looked and saw Bradley observing his supernatural meal and hissed that god awful noise of his. Bradley stared in horror at the oncoming monster and prayed loudly. "......for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen" he whispered the end of the Lords prayer and felt a thump on his chest. Pilate stared down growling and said "Be it taaaa......last hour......cur! Ye be takin' leave...... of da mortal coil soon." Bradley said that Pilate opened his mouth and the normal teeth of a cat were replaced by rows and rows of what looked like jagged glass. As Bradley Kimbrough was about to leave this world, a roar erupted from the stern. Both Pilate the monster and Bradley the former socialite turned to see the slim tabby cat, Christo leering at the two of them. "Solvo infit ut me modo!" erupted from Christo as an authoritative command to Pilate. Pilate regressed back into a larger version of the black cat he was, no longer upright like a monkey. "Cum tu cupio Cris'." was the line uttered by Pilate in a defeated and submissive tone. Bradley then was approached by Christo, his savior. He saw Christos' legs and arms lengthen, the fur receding and the fangs becoming dull. To Bradley he appeared to be a man in his early thirties who was dressed in a tan coat with a laborers shoes and the complexion of a man from some middle-eastern country. Christo appeared very human-like now, broad shouldered and thin with a scar below his left eye. He spoke with none of the accent that he had earlier. Christo greeted Bradley and explained that his "employers" liked Bradley, that they saw potential. I interrupted Mr. Kimbrough's story with "Well this is starting to sound familiar." "Yes, Riley I would imagine that is does. I have never had to tell it before but in your position I would imagine it would." he said with a laugh. Bradley continued to say that Christo, Pilate and the gray elder cat Samson were emissaries from powers that be. Bradley inquired as to whether the powers were God or Satan and Christo replied that they were neither. He said they were "interested parties" whose attention had been fixated on the fate of the human race since the beginning of time. He said that the value Bradley had put on the vitality of his life was special and that he was loyal and a leader. He also stated that he was here to offer him a job. "There is that outstanding offer again." I thought. "Yes Riley, and just as Christo explained the terms to me I will do so for you. If you want the opportunity to live beyond this moment, to live beyond your own lifetime then I will proceed in the conversation but if not say so now and you shall face your fate with your maker. What will it be son?" he said. I pondered with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Could I trust him? I didn't have the slightest inkling but I went with what felt like my only option. "You're right I don't want to die yet. Mr. Kimbrough what is your offer?" I asked with a slight sense of dread. Chapter 3 Now, I will explain more of my conversation with Mr. Bradley Kimbrough later. Let me go ahead and tell you how I made it off Iwo. As the Doc was still trying to hold what was left of me together the rest of the men abandoned my body as a lost cause. Hell, I don't blame them I would have to. Doc was still hovering over me crying when I was forced back into my body. Now, technically I was dead for over 5 minutes. But it didn't feel like that. I guess the body cannot jump back on the same page after it has been out of commission for a while. When I came to I had nothing to do but stare into the gray sky. I could hear Doc praying and then he put a regular issue green blanket over me as he would any other dead guy. After that blanket the world was black but I could still hear the ocean and the other sounds of war. After nightfall and three more hours at least of deafening gunfire I heard some serious talk between Doc and the Chaplain, Father Vaughn. They were discussing God's position on the war and other such heaviness. As soon as they got on the subject of God's views on Protestant and Catholic dogma the Chaplain was summoned to perform last rites on a number of Marines who were about to be permanently dismissed by the coldest motherfucker ever to walk this earth, Death . I heard Doc muttering to himself and approaching me. Up to this point I had tried to move but all that my body would allow was some very slow blinks. I found that my body was attempting to rebuild itself. I felt my organs retracting into my body cavity and my ribs growing and starting to close the gaping wound. The hole in my sternum closed as well and I felt tissue and skin covering the effected areas like a canvas. I knew all of this without seeing it and not really being all that amazed at what was occurring. These reactions were all probably because what Bradley Kimbrough told me about my new position. "Riley, the world is your oyster." He said. "If you decide to accept this opportunity you could live longer than any of your youngest relatives. You will never get sick, you will not live in fear and most certainly you will not be limited to what you can do with your "opportunity". He cooed at me with that slick tone again. But I knew better. Riley Coffert only made it through tenth grade but I'm not an idiot. I knew that nothing is free. So, inquisitive as I am I asked "Bradley, what is the catch I know that there must be a price. What do I have to do?" He replied like a man explaining the game of Monopoly to his young child. Everything came off with a very delicate explanation. "Mr. Coffert, you are to act as an agent for my benefactors. As an agent you will be dispatched from time to time to retrieve what the benefactors call the geevatma." He said matter-of-factly. "What is the geevatma? Is that like the soul or something?" I asked. "You are very astute sir! Excellent I guess you caught on after watching me do my work?" replied Bradley. I replied yes and stated that I had some reservations about hurting other people. He stated that it isn't so black and white and that really I was just a ferryman guiding these people to the next place. When he said the next place that brought fear into my being, did he mean hell? Bradley replied with a stern warning that the agents for the powers never are to question where they are going just that they need to get there. "We are not responsible for judgment of any man, woman or child. We just make sure that our clients are at said judgments promptly." was his reply. I asked him whether or not I would become what he became, a panther. He stated not if I didn't want to. He said that the form he was in prior to the panther man thing, that was somewhere in the fabric of his being, was a necessary part of the job and that agents only appear that way because the human mind will only associate their appearance as such. Bradley told me that no human mind could ever truly "see" them. The sight might destroy them. I pondered his points for a few moments. I then asked if there were any other fringe benefits. Bradley laughed and then told me what else I could expect. As I reviewed the conversation in my head I again heard Doc talking to me as though I was still there. I was almost done rebuilding myself when he removed the blanket. He stared at me in the dark until I saw the look I didn't want to see in his eyes. When I saw that look I heard Bradley's warning again. "Riley this is the second most important thing to remember. Under no circumstance, under no condition will you ever reveal what you are. To do so might anger the benefactors and they will seek retribution and I do not mean a spanking son. They will make it painful. At any cost you will need to keep your existence as an agent totally secret. By any means Riley do you understand?" I replied that I did and he repeated the warning. Back to earth and back on the beach Doc looked at me in disbelief. "Sergeant Coffert? It can't be...... howdidyou, I meanwhatinthehell???" he stammered. I rose from out of the sand with an agility I know that I never possessed in my previous life. I still had my 360 degree vision and my hearing was excellent. I felt what Bradley called the tools of my trade emerge from my finger tips and I slashed into Doc's neck ripping out his geevatma just as a stray bullet pierced his chest. I gave this piece of Doc to Bradley and he thanked me. "Riley, congratulations, I will take him to his appointment. You will be fine son. Just remember some of the finer details that we have discussed. Soon it will become old hat. Also, when you get back home the benefactors will have set up room and board for you so that you can have some independence. There you will find the contract we discussed. Review it from time to time." I asked him would I ever see him again. "Well Riley, I am afraid not. After one agent is appointed another is retired. Retirement is my next destination and where that leads... well young man I don't know but when I get there I will send you a postcard." he replied. After a couple of days on Iwo since my appointment I tracked down the other men who were in my group. None of the witnesses survived the battle. I was happy that I didn't have to kill anymore of my men. I was wondering why I didn't feel remorseful about ending Doc's life but I guess it was just as Bradley had said: "Riley we are the facilitators of the inevitable, an ends to a means. Our benefactors require us however to work in the shadows. I then asked him how. "You will be able to do things like stop a man's heart if necessary to facilitate the appointment or cause a car wreck. Even on this battlefield today, I changed the path of a bullet to end Felix's journey. Just think of it this way Riley, we are not doing anything that would not have occurred at some point or another." After thinking some more about what Bradley had said I met up with a few stragglers who heard the "rumor" that I had died but I found no one had any proof. These guys didn't witness anything so they certainly were not a threat. I stayed on that island to see both flag raisings. I got back to the States making no one the wiser about my new position and within 3 years I was discharged honorably and in my new furnished home provided by the benefactors. With the exception of the contract in the house on Cherry Street in the Riverside portion of Jacksonville, I had almost forgotten about Bradley Kimbrough and my position. My family looked at me as though I was some kind of hero and they were proud of my success of landing a job as an "independent recruiter" for the "War Veterans Bureau". As much as I loved my folks I never hesitated in making that lie sound believable. In fact, I never felt bad at all. So, with most of the details out of the way let me explain why my physical appearance might make you think I am crazy. Right now, at the age of 82, I look no older than someone in their early thirties. I stayed in shape after the Marines but I did little to exercise. My body has very little fat on it and I am in no way losing my hair. There are no erectile dysfunctions or heart problems for me to worry about and I love it. Why haven't I aged that much? Well, that was hinted at by Bradley and specified upon in the benefactor's contract. As far as I know I age one year for every eight to ten years. I haven't counted and I was told that the benefactors would not specify that. So, again we are at the subject of my age and physical appearance. This fringe benefit of not noticeably aging certainly was a great asset later in life but without spilling the beans it became hard to hide. Ultimately it cost me what should have mattered most. I spent the first months after my death on Iwo Jima back at home in Jacksonville. I spent my days taking classes at the Jacksonville University and pretending to work for some obscure veteran's group for the government. My parents were none the wiser, but I did feel that my mother hesitated in her belief when delving into the falsified details. She could tell something wasn't right and she never did hug me the same. I could tell she knew I wasn't her little boy anymore just by the vibe when she hugged me. There were times when I was physically turned away from her after expunging on some of the details of my fake monotonous federal job that I used my 360 degree sight to see that her face didn't believe me. But, I didn't need that at all, I could feel it. For the rest of the 1940's I did not really leave Jacksonville. Occasionally I would go on fishing trips to the Rodman Reservoir in Ponte Vedra but that was about it. I mainly spent my time dancing in the nightclubs, bedding every available woman and making use of my vigorous new abilities. At the end of the forties I was starting to feel restless and felt the need to test my limits. I entered into several marathons. Now, I have to tell you prior to my rebirth I hated running. I did it in the Marines and would wait until the platoon had turned the corner until my stomach would betray me and I would get a good case of projectile vomit. But now I loved it! As I trained I felt my agility and ability to sprint pick up considerably. One time while running near a highway a suped up Studebaker Champion with whitewall tires and a gleaming tail pipe was driving parallel to me. I was on a wooded path next to a highway so the driver never saw me. As I trotted along the Stu pulled out ahead of me. I felt I could increase my speed and take on the vehicle. The vehicle by now was doing forty miles an hour and I was out ahead by twenty feet. As the path took at hard right turn away from the highway I felt my muscles tense and I leapt twenty feet in the air and watched as the hotrod trolled on down the road. It was only when I had to get out of the moss draped tree that I realized twenty feet was one hell of a drop. While I discovered this and other interesting fringe benefits the world continued on but my aging hardly did and this fact was continually hard to hide. Fortunately for me the only ones who would have noticed otherwise soon met their maker in a fire in the family shack. I grieved for my parents but thanked God that I didn't have to take them. I sometimes wondered who did. The contract did state that there were others and we would know each other if we happen to cross paths but we were not to cohabitate, marry or procreate. The thought that someone like me may have used the fire to take my parents lives did bother me but I found an ease associated with the grieving process that I was sure was not natural. I spent the majority of the fifties enjoying my renewed vitality and my almost no strings attached position with the benefactors. I was walking in the Ambassador hotel one day when I noticed an attractive waitress. Her name was Sienna Watts. Sienna was easily no more than sixteen years of age and one hell of a looker. I watched as she served the lawyers and judges cocktails in the lounge of the hotel in Downtown Jacksonville on that muggy Tuesday lunch hour in August 1958. She, at 16 had her hair in a beehive and a skirt to her mid thigh. A white blouse with a conservative vest adorned her upper body and spiked heels were on her feet. I saw her and while I had felt animal attraction to the loose women from the bars and dance clubs I frequented, I had never longed for one woman this way. I walked into the bar and interrupted her as some flashily dressed man in a pin striped suit haggled with her over the degree to which he asked for his steak to be cooked. All the while this man was chomping away on a delicious piece of rib eye. I walked over to her and told her she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and that I wanted to take her out. She, being flustered at dealing with Judge Jackass looked at me as though I was on fire. She couldn't get a word out but the occasional stammering of wh wh whaaat? Then Judge Jackass made the worst mistake of his afternoon. "And just whowa da fuck doo yoo thank yoo arah?" erupted from his grease dripping lips. "Boya I'll have yer ass lawked up so fast yool be in the pee farm down in Ocala before sundown! Do you hear me boya? Are you fuckin' stoopid I am tawking to you! If you don't get the hail outta here...GULK." he said the last part with a huge spike in volume mixed with surprise. What no one in the room and most certainly not Judge Jackass would have known is that an agent like me can close a wind pipe like I did on that well dressed wind bag with my mind. The judge began floundering around like a drunken baby, not sure of where his feet were and with no sense of direction but damn sure to get where he was going. He was gurgling and clawing at his throat. Everyone tried to force his gut onto a counter edge or the side of one of the round tables to force that meat out of his throat. All the while Sienna and I just stared at each other. As the pandemonium deepened we broke our stare and took stock of the situation. I watched as the man continued to claw at his Adam's apple fruitlessly. As he clawed I saw him actually draw a spurt of blood from his neck onto the face of the wife of some legal eagle and the white table cloths on two of the round tables. After this I released my hold on his windpipe and he fell, passed out on the floor. An ambulance was called and the judge was taken away. He never did have the ability to talk again. Regardless of the chaotic scene, Sienna and I talked after her shift was over. The incident never made it into the conversation and instead we talked the stuff that only soul mates would find entertaining. I told my story again about whom I was and what I did. I still looked like I could have been my age but I fibbed and told her I was younger than I actually was. We began dating and I felt truly happy as we fell in love. We dated and I was saving the money to look for a ring when my first real job as an agent was brought to my attention around the summer of 1962. Sienna and I had our routine on Saturdays of taking walks by the river and taking in a movie. At around 1 o'clock a very firm rapping at my door startled me as I was listening to the radio. I opened the door and there stood a delivery man. He was dressed similar to the message couriers that you would see in any city but he wore the uniform of no discernable company. His features were initially that of a young man but I sensed a lot more than that. "Message for Mr. Riley Coffert.", he said. "I'm Mr. Coffert. Who is this from?" I asked. He then explained he worked for my employers and that I was on the clock. I asked him what was the assignment and the messenger extended his hand to shake my hand. I reached out and at the moment our grips were cemented I felt an explosion of purpose and understanding in my brain. In my mind's eye I saw a man Karl Ordhoffer, who was drinking Scotch in his ramshackle home on the side of town known as Mandarin. He was depressed over his secret involvement years before in the Holocaust. As a young soldier and quick riser in the ranks in the SS he "gathered" evidence against enemies of the 3rd Reich. Conveniently enough these enemies were Jews. But poor old Karl had never imagined that his last set of victims were to be a widow and her four children. As he prepared the papers that detailed their supposed crime they just appeared to him as names, not faces or ages. He compiled the information that he gathered during his investigation never noticing the birthdates of each criminal. His informant in the ghetto was a homosexual art student who was told that to facilitate his travel to his parents' homeland of France (and essentially in exchange for his life) he would have to find something significant to help the Nazi cause. Karl did not care that the art student, Philippe, fabricated the whole story of the woman Stella Janowitz and her supposed letter writing to an American soldier on the front lines which were delivered by her children. He just wanted to further the cause and make his self appear important, important enough to be spared death. Even after Philippe produced the information he was still shot for being gay, a common practice in WWII Germany. In my mind I saw Karl crying into his glass reflecting on how his investigation brought the family in front of a firing squad and how the air from their lungs escaped from them in steam clouds as they exhaled for the last time. He was thinking how could he do this to a child? Karl, in the present was sitting in his house, had on his lap a Luger that he smuggled when he illegally came to America after the war. Karl had changed his name to Carl O'Dorff to appear more American and thus less suspicious in these still paranoid post McCarthyanism days. I knew Karl was a bad man but my job was not to judge, it was to deliver. I felt the grip of the messenger release and I opened my eyes to see he was gone. Sienna called from the other room and asked what I was doing with the door open and I replied that an emergency came up that I needed to report to the office. The office was supposedly on Naval Air Station Jacksonville but no such office existed and Sienna was none the wiser. As she muttered under her breath for me to do my duty I quickly closed the door. Halfway down the street I ducked into an alley and removed all of my clothing. It was dusk and the shadows were already growing rapidly. I waited until darkness was more present than light and I felt my first change into a creature that reaped souls for the employers. My body elongated and I felt a wild power beneath skin. I bounded across the rooftops and lighted on the Spanish moss covered branches of large oak trees. I continued on a southeastern course until I arrived at the ramshackle residence of this Nazi. I melted into a nearby wall and watched as Karl danced with his demons. Sometimes in great duress I could see what the people saw. In their last moments some people relive a lot of the past. In this case it was Scotch in one hand and an ancient Luger in the other with Karl stumbling wildly around this old living room. A Nazi flag on one wall and newspapers blaring in German, outfitted with sharp frames adoring another. Karl screamed in German at the lying officials in his head. He begged to be reassigned for his own sake. When his ghosts no longer listened he began singing Kampflied der Nationalsozialisten, a Nazi era war song. I could see these ghosts or at least what Karl thought he was seeing. I saw the long dead superiors who stared with silence and hate. Their eyes were sunk deep into their sockets and their flesh held a death tone. These long dead Nazis were in one corner. In the other were literally millions of sad but patient eyes within a brightly lit fog. Those in the fog stared waiting for their retribution. These were the victims of Karl the Nazi. Karl was thrashing about uttering phrases in English and German clutching at his cranium. In the midst of the gibberish I heard him say that he was sorry but nothing could change the past. He then yelled that "not even that would make up for it". He then picked up the Luger and it nearly came to his temple but he instead aimed upward. Ordinarily this would have led to a shot going through the roof and the neighbors would call the men in the lab coats and he would go away in a Thorazine dream to the sanitarium. But, being the good employee that I am I forced the path of that bullet directly back into his temple. When the gunpowder exploded that sent the shell out of the barrel and straight through his head. Karl never knew what hit him. As he drifted to the ground in gravity's sweet embrace I saw the look in his eyes. Anyone else would have dismissed it but it spelled out several things. First and foremost, was the expression of relief. Within that relief was an expression of confusion. The pain of mental anguish was over but how did that happen? When his body hit the dirty floor and his brain matter gushed I leapt upon the body in my animal form and carved out his soul. At this point I knew instinctively what was to be done. Karl and I took off through his roof and instead of crossing out into the evening sky I saw a vast waste land. A bright flame atop a mountain guided me like a beacon. After what felt like hours of flight I landed at the source of the flame. A small man, no more than 5 foot 6 and weighing less than 150 pounds gestured for me to land. After doing so I released the soul of Karl into the grasp of this Slight man and as I did Karl's soul, the geevmata, shuddered. The man turned towards me in my animal form and told me that I was doing my job and that the employers were pleased. He said that he is the keeper of the gateway and that we will be doing such exchanges in the future. He wished me luck and told me to adhere to the policies and procedures of the contract. When I turned to go I saw two other equally nondescript men take the soul of Karl away and Karl looked at me as if to beg. I looked at the man who I identified as the Slight Man and I gestured at Karl. He replied with a terse "He is none of your concern we are taking him to his meeting." I turned and ascended into what appeared to be a pollution soaked sky. As I rose I grew tired and closed my eyes. When I reopened them I was in the alleyway and only minutes had passed as the sun was still setting. I returned home and when I walked through the door, Sienna greeted me with dinner and a cold Budweiser. We talked about our plans for the next weekend and we casually made love on the couch. Not a thing bothered us the rest of the day. It all felt uneventful. Even Ed Sullivan seemed in his deadpan expression all the more boring tonight. But it sure did not stay that way. No sir, all was not normal and not fine on the nocturnal dreams front not with those horrible nightmares. I dreamt of the old shack where I was born and where my parents died. I came into the humble abode and Mother was mashing potatoes for a feast. She asked me to bring her the mixing bowl that she always loved. As I reached of the bowl it slipped off the shelf and I used my enhanced agility to catch it. That's when I heard my mother. "Cheater! You scoundrel! Couldn't be happy with the life that you had could 'ya? Many a boy died on that island Riley. You should have stayed dead. Dead things stink, dead things rot! They rot like your Pa and me. No matter though! You took care of that didn't ya? Did you know that your Pa has to watch me satisfy the flesh of demons? WITH MY MOUTH RILEY!!! WITH MY SWEET GODFEARING LIPS!!!!!" All of this was said while I had my head down. I looked up in horror to see that it was not my Mother but Arty. Ravaged by insects and decay. I could see a huge piece of fur missing over his right eye and maggots in his nose. He breathed on me the stench of dirt and guts. I then vomited into the bowl that was to be a family heirloom but was destroyed in the fire. But no vomit came out instead it was the soul of Karl. "Es not pritty ere my fraund. They beat you and question you. De Juden es bite at you and you take it because we pay in this place. You brrrought me here and muh only joy is having your Momma und Poppa fur dinner." screamed Karl. I stumbled out of the shack just in time to see Father engulfed in flames and lighting his tobacco pipe off of the flames melting his face. As I turned I asked him why this was. He turned and told me "it's in the contract and that he was going to sit back and watch it all burn...... Oh, and son we miss you! Come visit more often!" His last sentence was said with his flesh bubbling off. As he winked his left eye erupted from his socket and exploded on his face sizzling like an egg. Chapter 3: Soon after the nightmares began we got married. The nightmares never stopped but they calmed down a lot. Over the years I was involved in several different facilitations. Each one of the appointees was different but the same in a way. I could never quite place my finger on it. I did however continue in my duties and these jobs never seemed all that remarkable. I developed into an unfeeling, uncaring company man. That is how the wife and I spent the sixties. I was working and she was homemaking. We tried several times over the years to have kids but she could not get pregnant. Soon, we stopped trying all together. Miracles do happen is what her mother would say. This must be true because on September 10, 1970 my son was born. Sienna was nearly twenty eight before little Calvin was born. Calvin was 9 pounds six ounces of pure love born in 1970. He was a happy baby and there were times when I looked through the contract for any details on offspring of agents. While nothing was detailed I found nothing wrong with him. I wanted to make sure because he seemed too perfect. One day I was home watching the baby when the same delivery man knocked on the door. I opened the door and Delivery man was there not at all aged a day. He looked the same. As I opened the door he took off his hat and smiled. "Riley Coffert! Good to see you my good man. I've got another job from management. You know, we in operations were all pleased with your performance. We see a bright future from you son and hopefully a nice retirement Good luck!" he said while sticking out his hand. I looked at his hand like it was on poison and I looked back at him. "Riley, what is moving in that silly little head of yours? You aren't hesitating are you? That would not be the brightest thing in the world son!" he hissed. "You are not a man are you?" I asked quietly. "Riley, I have two things to say and then you are going to take the job and do it, capiche'?" came out like rapid fire from his lips. "First, what I may be is of no fucking concern to you!" he roared. "Second, you had better not question anything to do with the organization again, or you will pay the price." As he roared the petunias in the flower pot wilted and the fish tank inside the front door bubbled as the fish within exploded. His brows furrowed and drool flew from his lips. I wondered what the price was but I figured that maybe my curiosity should sit the bench on this one. I placed Calvin in the crib for a quick nap, as it was time for one anyway. He curled up with his blanket and passed out before I could even tuck him in. I turned towards Delivery man and hoped that my wife would not come home before I was done. Delivery man extended his hand again and this time I gripped it. Once again the burden of instant knowledge, purpose and understanding lit my skull on fire. I saw in my mind a bartender at a bar called the Little Brown Jug mixing drinks. Her name was Samantha Blanco and she was what appeared to be a mix of Hispanic and Indian heritage. She was in good spirits and health at the age of thirty; she was in no mental duress. For a millisecond I allowed myself to question why she was to have an appointment. As I did this physically I felt my hand break in the grip of the Delivery Man and mentally I felt severe hatred directed at me. RULE 1 PARAGRAPH 2 APPENDIX E OF *ego* THE CONTRACT BETWEEN *animus* THE INTERESTED PARTIES AND*induco* AGENTS! AGENTS *tui*SHALL NOT JUDGE AGENTS SHALL *pectus*NOT FALTER AGENTS SHALL NOT HESITATE AGENTS SHALL NOT DEVIATE FROM THE MISSION AT*cum* HAND! DID YOU HEAR *dolor*THAT YOU DEAF SON OF A BITCH!!! WE WILL BREAK YOU IF YOU DO NOT ASIMILATE INTO THIS THING OF OURS BUDDY BOY!!! As the last syllable left his lips the Delivery man released his grip and sent me packing. I awoke some time later but judging by the clocks it was maybe three minutes. My wounded hand was now back in place. I did feel the trickle of blood from my nose that let me know the bosses were not fucking around. I stood up and Calvin was still sleeping with his thumb firmly in his mouth, dreaming sweetly. I knew I could not wait and I had to do my job. As I closed the door I was filled with dread. This dread came from the parental worries that only a man who loves his children can own. For the first time in nearly twenty years since talking with Bradley Kimbrough I actually thought of talking with God. But if I did would he listen? I took advantage of my abilities and was without clothes and in my cat like form as I raced for this bar. As I raced to the outside of the building, I caught my reflection in a puddle. I had never seen myself like this. The best description of my physical form would be that of a large lynx. I had pointed ears on my head and the rows of glass fangs were in my mouth. Fur covered me and my eyes were the worst part. The eyes were still almond shaped but the irises where that of an animal. I hung my head for a moment but then realized that I must do my job. I was after all a company man. I walked through an alleyway to the back of the bar and a bum sleeping off his heroin withdraws or his alcohol poisoning, groaned as I approached. So that I would not have to add another body to my count I made myself invisible as I crept past. Just as I moved past this man he said something that scared the living shit out of me. "Did you think I didn't see you Riley?" he said in a quivering, mentally unstable sounding voice. I turned, still invisible and glared at him. The man was old, unshaven with a scraggily beard and I most certainly never would have met him. He laughed like a man desperate for release. "HA! Angels and devils we think they don't exist but they reap what we have sown. We, the agents and I now the cast out. Castaway is more like it. Contracts and symbols, rules and regulations! All meaning little when retirement comes up." I froze in place trying to rationalize what this man was saying. I looked closely at this disheveled man and I saw who he really was and right then I knew I was fucked. I approached him quietly returning visible. "You remember Iwo Riley? Remember how easily you bought into the whole deal? It wasn't hard. It isn't hard for all of those who they choose." he muttered. I slowly slid back into my human form and I stared into the face of a man who wasn't the agent I remembered from years before. I was looking at Bradley Kimbrough. "Bradley? How is this even possible?" I asked in disbelief. The man who isn't Bradley but was spoke at me and the demons that tormented him. "I stole Seventy seven souls for them. Eternal life was promised and eternal death is what was given. Banished from hell excluded from Heaven......where can I go. This is retirement." I grew increasingly worried as Bradley Kimbrough explained where he has been for the last twenty years. But before I get there I must explain more about some of the appointments I arranged. In the years prior to this interaction I took exactly forty two people to their own meetings. Sometimes I would go to the dark, desolate place to deliver the appointees and sometimes I went to a bright waiting room. Fearing the worst and hoping for the best I never questioned. Some of the geevmata of people went quietly, some wailed, and some prayed loudly. Ultimately, I was the company man and just stayed in my lane. In the end it all came down to what have you done for us lately. "I was in their version of hell." Bradley told me. He explained that after he left me he traveled to the white room and delivered his last appointment to the Slight Man. He took possession of the geevmata and as Bradley turned to leave the door he entered through vanished. Bradley turned to the slight man who stood there palms together at his waist grinning maniacally. "Oh, Bradley we so loved your work here. How will we ever live without you?" the Slight Man said through a clenched smile. Bradley said that the Slight Man taunted him with promises of paradise, but told him that there is a line and it starts at eternity and ends in forever. I could not tell if Mr. Kimbrough was again fading into madness or telling the truth but I did not like it. Bradley then said he demanded his freedom for several generations of appointments. The Slight Man then told him it was all a lie and that there was no reward just perdition. He said he didn't know how long they held him in that room but he then was cast into a pit. This wasn't necessarily a dark pit but one of gloom. In the pit Bradley said every one of his memories were twisted into what felt like physical manifestations and even the slightest of comforting thoughts and reflections were transformed into horrific visions of themselves. His father would appear at times and tell him that he was proud of his service but that he was still a lazy boy and he would die there. The old captain would approach as a walking corpse and would strike him on occasion. The whores he bed would suck the air out of his lungs and make him bleed from every orifice. My recruiter into this life also told me that he was there for centuries. As he told me the tale his breathing grew labored. Bradley stated that the Slight Man came to see him every decade and mortally wounded him. As he lay dying his blood would form a dark pool which then became a void and swallowed him. As he fell through the vastness of the void his body would rot and die. As his eyes and lungs decomposed he would lose his grip on reality and wake up in the same pit, his body aged ever so slightly. He would experience this "retirement" for what felt like ages. One day a bright, hot light opened up and he was expelled from the pit. Somehow he was made corporeal but quite insane and he was spat back into our realm of existence. He said that he could see the demons and the angels. Bradley stated that in one of his more lucid states that he visited a church and an angel sat on his left and a plainly dressed man on his right. By now Bradley Kimbrough's lungs gurgled with each exhale. He was dying. I placed my hand on his chest and CANCER, CARCINOGEN, CARCOMA, all flashed in my minds eye. Bradley continued to explain that when the angel sat with him he identified himself as Yeiayel, a guardian angel. The gentleman to his right identified himself as Nicholas of Bari. The two told Bradley that he could not die in his current state. They told him that the employers were far more resourceful than they appeared. Yeiayel and Nicholas explained to Bradley the "true" nature of our employers. During the casting out of all of the angels that refused to remain under God's will, there were a group of angels who waited in the wings to see how things would pan out. These angels were through the ages now called the Eructo. While they did not rise against God directly, He punished them for their apathy and cast them away instead of down. Banned from Heaven and running from Hell, these former angels now sought to create their own coup against all fronts, God and Satan. They were less evil than opportunistic, more selfish than good. Above all they sought to serve no God besides themselves. Yeiayel told Bradley that they had heard his cries and when he asked for forgiveness God granted it on one condition. He would have a limited time to save one of his own, me. Bradley proceeded to tell me that the Eructo delighted in the capturing of souls to fashion their own world. Their twisted sense of morality saw it fit to curse Bradley and all other former agents as individuals suffering from mental illness. This byproduct of their debriefing in the pit left them tormented but not able to die by any means. In fact, it seems as though anytime they built the faculties to attempt suicide they were just resurrected again, albeit a little crazier each time. Mr. Kimbrough coughed lung tissue and dark blood into his beard. He said that God "blessed" him with the advanced lung cancer a month ago and told him to find me, to save me. He said that God would allow him to die. I asked with fear how could I join in this freedom one day? Bradley with his dying breath revealed a frightening prospect: "Resistance." Chapter 4: Bradley Kimbrough faded from this world. I was full of fear and paranoid that the benefactors had seen our little interaction. Right now my instincts told me the best thing to do was to complete the job. Better to make the bosses happy rather than suspicious. I entered the bar through the wall as I crept, invisible along the counter. Ms. Blanco was tending bar on a busy night in the hole in the wall. She busily walked back and forth taking money and making drinks. She saw the cooler that contained the ice for all the drinks. On the tile floor a small puddle had developed from the melting of the ice. She thought to herself "How many times have I asked, no fucking pleaded with Dean to seal this leaky fridge up??? Someone is likely to break a hip around here and we don't really need that!" Phil Stiver, a regular, ordered his usual Whiskey sour on the rocks. Samantha, the soon to be dead bartender, opened the ice box and had to break the ice. As she struggled with the ice, I melted more of it to increase the puddle. Her next step landed half of her Converse in the puddle. As she turned to pivot the slick soled shoes and the soaked tile caused Samantha to fly down at an angle with incredible velocity. Normally, she would have caught her self and just gotten a hell of a bruise on her stomach or maybe her side. Today, however, the Eructo demanded a sacrifice in their never ending quest to make their own world. Phil Stiver shouted as Samantha fell, but all she heard was the lethal crack of her skull on the corner of the bar as it struck her in the temple. Being the ever so frightened company man I obtained Ms. Blanco and ascended into the ceiling and entered the white room. The Slight man awaited me. He waived me down to him. As I descended I released the hold on the geevmata and the Slight man grinned. "Good! Good Mr. Coffert! We continue to see your ever steady numbers. I assume you must be looking forward to your retirement?" Perhaps the Slight Man saw the untrusting look on my face. "Mr. Coffert, we here are PROUD of you! Retirement is a beautiful thing my boy. BE-A-UTEEFULL! But as your time draws to a close beware those who are out there trying to steal you away from the company my man! Corporate Head Hunters are fucking brutal! Well you appear to be set, off you go!" I descended into the floor but the Slight Man had one last thing to say. "Oh and Riley, take care of that family of yours." The last line left me shaken and I awoke again outside of my neighborhood naked. I quickly jaunted up to the house in the shadows. Sienna was still out and Calvin was in his crib drooling. I looked at him and kissed his head. His total lack of concern was addressed with a firm and intense grunt. The grunt progressed into his poop noise and the air soon flooded with the smell of shit. Calvin then laughed as he played with his toes. Chapter 5: Things continued in the normal fashion like this for the next ten years. Calvin would shit we would change the diaper, End scene. Not much to it really but what Bradley told me still left that kicked in the gut feeling that I could not shake. I was raised a Catholic, told to believe that Angels are all around us and Hell is a lot closer than we care to imagine. Sienna soon started to show the signs of aging. Crows feet began developing their jagged creep along her eyes. She soon developed a healthy set of smile lines. We had some good times in those ten years. At this point I was fifty five years of age, but I still looked a good twenty five or twenty six. This had not gone unnoticed by Sienna. She would sometimes make quips about being a cradle robber but when she was honest, really honest; I could see her aura was troubled by this. Calvin was now a precocious ten year old who was into the Pittsburgh Steelers and of course Terry Bradshaw. That fucking bumpkin was so much of a hick it was difficult to listen to a post-game interview. Calvin however, idolized him. I spent several paychecks buying Steelers jerseys and football apparel. We watched him grow over the years until he was a strapping twelve year old. At this point my wife looked every bit her age. It was now 1982 and while The J Giles Band was tearing through Centerfold I noticed a change in my wife. Sienna's normal demure had taken a gloomy turn. She had always been confident but quiet. Never one to be the life of the party she was far from the depressive wall flower. Lately though she looked at me not with love, but suspicion. I could tell that while I had barely a touch of smiles lines, she drew comparison to most of my friends when looking at me. Something did not add up to her and maybe on that solid stone of a human mind she knew something that echoed in her mind like a bell tolling. I imagined that her warnings went off like to the tune of LIAR...... HE IS LYING.......LIAR......Not HONEST This feeling around my wife continued for exactly two months. Then I saw her aura go from green to a deep magenta and finally it spiked with an orange color. I attempted to put this out of my mind but when I did Bradley coughing up his lungs and uttering Resistance made it vomit out of my head. Soon the feelings inside Sienna came out. One day Sienna awoke and was not normal. She started to make the pot of coffee that we have every morning. I walked past her in the kitchen and I opened the cupboard to get my World's Best Dad mug. As I did coffee flowed from the counter and between Sienna's legs. I stared in disbelief because well, when the fuck do you expect that to happen? I approached my wife to see if she was ok. I could hear her muttering to herself and as I slid over to her I heard the ramblings of a tortured soul in mid sentence. "......Jesus loves you more than you would know whoa whoa whoa, and here's to you Mrs. Robinson......Am I Mrs. Robinson? The new postman asked if my husband was my son, MY SON! Momma told me there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this Momma said. She never told me I would have married a Martian. All this lack of has made me wonder...Do I love? How do you love what is not right? Are you a fucking vampire Riely?" She uttered these last few thoughts with a broken spirit, not even sure of who or what she was. I was fairly sure she did not know I was there even though she was looking through me. I was very scared as to what Sienna would do with herself at that point. I asked her what was wrong and she looked at me as though she was on the Titanic and I was at the dock. She had not slept that much I could tell. Had I been such a good company man that I was letting the cracks in this facade of my contracted life show? Or was there something else? She sadly never really got better. We had to send Calvin to live with her mother for two weeks and when he came back even he understood that things would never be quite right. We took her up down to Charter by the Sea, one of these small clinics that specializes in depression and detoxification. She told them that the voices in her head were screaming that our life together was the sham, that she was unclean. These voices told her that I was the Devil and Calvin was some Damien kind of figure. They told her to jump off the Matthews Bridge into the tumultuous St. John's River below. Just a quick note ladies and gents, the Matthews jump would kill anyone and if it didn't the river had a way of removing that pesky mortal coil. She said to the doctors that the old me disappeared and the new me slinked about. She said that she could not handle it. It was during one of these visits that I went to use the bathroom and as I opened the stall there before me stood the Delivery Man. Not a hair out of place and not a wrinkle to show, but sure enough he was there. "Riley! It is time to take care of some shit. The benefactors require to do what you do buddy! I have the job all laid out for you! Now is that not just*lino creatura* EXCITING?" I looked at this man. I was desperate to handle my affairs with my wife and for the first time I felt resistance was not only the opposite of futile, but the necessity. I felt rage and furious anger gather within me. I was angry that I never had the chance to be normal. I was furious that people like Bradley and I had been taken by the ultimate sucker's bet. Without the knowledge necessary to make an educated decision you would be to. With that I uttered only one word. That word sealed my fate and made sure I could never go back. "No." I said my part and The Delivery Man dropped Fat Man and maybe Little Boy on my belligerent ass. Quite literally it felt like a bomb was dropped in the bathroom. The tiles melted and shattered from the intense energy. My clothes were singed and blown off of my body. A roar that could only be heard by dead things like me bellowed at me blowing all hair off of me. I saw something from The Delivery Man that came straight out of Revelations. His normal All American looking face peeled back. I mean quite literally his mouth opened and I saw a featureless Easter Island kind of head birthed. Soon on the left there were three separate faces and on the right side of this monolith there were three more. Still the main face remained. This new monstrosity addressed me as its wings unfurled and they seemed to multiply. "WE ARE WHAT HAVE BEEN AND WHAT WILL BE. YOU HAD A CHOICE AND YOU MADE IT. NOT ADHERING TO THE CONTRACT MEANS BANISHMENT*Te nuts nam fio iussu de Eructo , a la iumentum!!!!" I felt a change in my body that I cannot quite describe. If you watch the American werewolf in London, I mean specifically that transformation scene, you might have a clue. But fuck John Landis, all those prosthetics do not burn your soul. What I experienced was a ripping sensation under my remaining skin. As it cracked and ripped an animal burst forth. The animal was me. After seeing this I blacked out. When I came to my vision was different. It was in black and white, high on the contrast. I smelled everything but it was like I could see the odors. Then I heard screaming. The screaming seemed to be wildly distorted like that of someone who comes to after a grenade blast. Soon, everything came into focus. I was this beast, this monster feline. The power beneath my skin was hateful and full of vengeance. As I attempted to gain control of my body the limbs would not respond. It was like being in the most inclusive theater experience imaginable. I could experience everything but could control none of it. As I wandered the halls of the mental health clinic a beat of purpose flooded my conscience. Blood blood smell the scent kill kill kill, feed on prey, CONSUME SIENNA. Whatever the motivation I could not fathom a way out. Inside my mind I screamed as I felt the animal I had become track the love of my life. I could hear her heart. In my mind I screamed for God. But according to the lack of response God cared not. I could smell her breath. I knew the distance between us. As I closed in I heard that purpose counting down. 30, 30 feet and counting.....My God stop me pleeaase...24, 24 feet until we sing......I don't wanna hurt you Sienna ruunnn .......... 15, 15 more steps and you will take your medicine.........I can't do this......8, 8 steps until see things from our point of view again... I then killed my wife. As she died I was left with her last words. "So, sayeth the Lord." Chapter 6 I cannot tell you how long I was this beast. I never really had a good grip on time but I know that as my mind emerged more I felt as though the world had passed me by. The world looked bright and harsh. I however was still this monster and I still had no control. I would hunt and kill. I was no longer a man and I continued to struggle within the body that was a cell and a tomb. I was forced to eat rotting carcasses and sleep in the wilds of the swamps. One day while hunting the very same game that I used to shoot, I slinked through some high brush. As I entered this clearing I came upon the Delivery Man. My first animal instinct was to lunge. I actually did feel my feline muscles tense. As I moved forward in an aggressive manner towards him that bastard moved out of the way just a little bit quicker. He grabbed me by the throat as though I was just a nuisance. I struggled in his vice grip as I heard him say his words. " Adhuc tu relucto invitus mei ? We still have many more uses for you Reily. How do you like this form? Did shitting in the woods and being a prisoner to instinct make you feel like rebelling? Tell me Reily, do you think Sienna would love you still? You worthless furball! I have been doing this far too long and as of yet I have never met one with such balls as to deny us! But is it possible that you have seen your recruiter? If you have believe me whatever he says are the ravings of a lunatic... Oh well never mind the Employers want you back on the clock." I could hear him and see him but this angry little man gave off no scent. I felt a great heat around me and feared that I would die, again. It is funny how that kind of shit sneaks up on you when you have not feared death in decades. As the Delivery Man finished his tirade he dropped one last little quip that made me want to kill him. "Oh, and don't get cute again Reilly, because my kind loves the young ones and Calvin is such a dish......Now get to fucking work." I blinked my eyes and I was a man again. I was wrapped in some fashionable clothes and I knew that it was time to get back to my home. I slowly made my way back to civilization and to my prison. I found later that I had been gone for two weeks. They had Sienna's funeral without me. I felt like such a traitor to the woman I shared my bed with. In my two day trip back to the home the Eructo had set up for me, I thought about my wife. Sweet, innocent Sienna, I hoped she was somewhere she could feel happy. I certainly couldn't. I soon found out my son was living with his grandparents and he was not ready to see me yet. I don't think he ever forgave me for not being there for him. I don't blame him. I arrived back to Cherry Street and I opened the door to our apartment. I noticed that most of Sienna's stuff was gone. I sensed that this was no doubt the work of some division of the Benefactors. I sat and cried bitterly on the couch where we casually made love. I looked into the kitchen and into the bathroom where she went crazy. I saw all of this and finally talked to God. "God, I am so sorry I did any of this. I do not want this anymore. I render myself to your will" Just then a knock at the door startled me. In between my tears I stumbled to the darkened hallway that led to the door. For only the second time since being an agent I was afraid. I was half expecting the Delivery man and half expecting to see a mutilated version of Sienna, timidly I opened the door. Before me stood what appeared to be a man, but I knew this appearance was just a facade. I cried openly because the man in front of me was bathed in light. He wore the clothes of any man. His eyes were the fiercest of blue and his hair was that of honey brown. With a countenance that radiated love, I could not look at him directly. He spoke and my once supernaturally strong knees began to shake and they betrayed the legs that held them. I fell to all fours and listened as he spoke. I was now listening to the guardian angel Nelchael. He knew that I had encountered Bradley. He stated that all was not lost and like the loving Father Yahweh was, God was there with me through it all. He stated that my wife was in Paradise and that she did not have hatred for me. I smiled as I cried at this thought. Nelchael then told me that another advocate on my behalf was here to assist me. In walked in a frail young woman but again she was a person of a beaming countenance. There was also a fire in her eyes I could tell she was not an angel nor was she living. I was then introduced to Joan of Arc. "Fear not Riley, as I became a champion for thy countrymen as well as for the will of God thou canst as well. Thine moment of redemption and victory has arrived. The Eructo have long corrupted man kind with hatred of our Lord. They plot even now on how to corrupt thou further. Do not despair for we are kin in Christ. Inside of thee beats the heart of a warrior. The Lord tasks thee with being his instrument of balance. Wert His vessel of justice! Bring an end to thine suffering as well as become the arc which delivers the end to the abomination of the Eructo. Now is the time. Does thou accept the Lord's request?" she said with unwavering solidarity. I looked back and forth at the two of them. I was strangely reminded of the parallels of this encounter and the moment of my rebirth. Both chances at a new life, neither seemed like a must take deal. This one, this one was different. At least there was no feeling of impending doom on this bargain. I agreed to the deal. For once, I felt like I made a wise choice. Chapter 7: I continued in the presence of the angel and the saint. Nelchael informed me that God demanded that I be wiped clean. The angel extended his arms upward. I felt the electricity of the air pick up and then he touched my chest. I would like to tell you that I was blown away by the awesome power that is God. I would like to tell you that the Earth slowed its rotation, and that the seas came like a stampede to the shore, I would love to tell you this but none of it happened. I did feel warmth within my chest. I felt a sorrow for my hasty decisions and I felt all of the souls I took being released to their judgment. I also saw for the first time exactly what the Eructo envisioned. I saw the combination of Earth, Hell, Purgatory and Heaven they wanted. This all frightened me badly. I then shed a tear, this was the tear of a remorseful heart. Nelchael bid me farewell. I changed into my animal form as instructed but when I came upon my reflection I was slightly startled. I was an animal of the most brilliant white fur. I had my eyes. I also possessed wings made of light. I knew what I was made for. I then moved out into the hallway in time to see the Delivery Man. He took one look at me and I promise you, he shook in fear. He dropped all pretenses of being a man and with a stamp of his foot he attempted to vanquish me into nothingness. He spat and cursed, seething with anger at the new animal I had become. His flawed human guise melted away and the cast away angel that he was emerged. "WE FELT THEM AS SOON AS THEY WERE HERE, RILEY!!! DID YOU THINK WE WOULD NOT KNOW??? IT IS TIME YOU SEE THE LIGHT... IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO SERVE YOUR MASTER! BOW TO YOUR GODS, RILEY AND MAY WE HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SHIT STAINED SOUL!!" he bellowed in his true form. I opened my mouth to respond and what emerged was the stuff of Revelation. An immense light roared from me and began to devour the Delivery Man. I heard the screams of what sounded like a thousand angels. Delivery Man's seven faces glowed and then faded to ash. Nelchael exhaled and the corporeal form of my tormentor disintegrated. Nelchael bid me God's blessing and sent me on my way. I ascended into the ceiling of my building and into the polluted world of the Eructo. With the mountain where I delivered so many geevmata in plain view I felt the hate directed towards me. It seems as though the Delivery Man was just my earthly contact but they all knew what was going on at each end. The light on the mountain grew hot and bright. The Eructo awaited me. They knew I was turning in my notice. They saw that I would not conform, that I would not bend and I had not broken. They took my wife but not my free will. I was here to deliver the A-bomb that was God's anger. I was the vessel to carry a payload of unfathomable proportions. I descended through the fog and I saw the Slight Man, next to him were about a million or so of the nondescript men with their maws open and salivating. I could hear their curses in every language. Each one spoke randomly but in a hive mind kind of scenario their gibberish-like curses were strung together in fragmented sentences. "(Imbecile, we are the Truth, the light and the Way. Slimy Betrayer, you are damned to be our whore, Rape you and fill you full of our hate. You are our slave. We can bend you, you will break. There will be no end to your misery you harlot of the God of Abraham!! OUR will be DONE. Your mother is our concubine and your father is our beast of burden. Prepare to join them, you cocksucker!)" My wings of light spread before the hordes of cast away angels. My head surveyed what was about to be one large target range. I felt a burning in my soul and a light began to emanate from my chest. Soon, the gloom of the polluted world of the Eructo got very bright. I descended into the masses that seethed with fury at what I was doing. They surrounded me and clawed at my "flesh". As they did this the horrible end all and be all of Holy Lights leveled this wasteland that was not kosher. I was now watching this from far away. I felt tired and my eyelids grew heavy. The voice of Nelchael told me to close my eyes. He said that as a child of God, my eyes should never have to view the destruction he can bring. I closed my eyes and dreamed. I dreamed of Sienna, of her lovely hair. I smelled her sweet perfume. She whispered to me that she loved me. She talked of our life together and how I was back to being a man again. She said that I was to raise Calvin now that I was free of the Eructo. She then made me promise that I would see her in my dreams and I promised her I would. I then was aware that I was back home in bed. I then yawned and began to awake. My God, for the first time I really felt awake. I leaned over the mounds of pillows and grabbed the phone. I dialed my in law's number and when someone picked up the line I felt hope for the first time in what seemed like forever.

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    I enjoyed that and I also like the title. You have good imagery and I chuckled at a few of your analogies. This story also had a refreshing breath of fresh air, and by that I mean violence. Lots of it. Keep it coming mate.
    Great imagery. The introduction paragraph, to me, doesn't really sound like your voice and can really be left out. you cover all the basis later and throughout the story. That's the only change I'd suggest.