all the time…
“Hey Harris, was it still worth it?”
That’s Fat Henry in the next cell, hollering at me as I take my last walk with Warden Jones and the preacher. Henry gets his in June so he’s probably thinking about the same stuff that I am. “Yeah, Henry,” I say, “I can still feel his squishy neck under my fingers and it feels good! I shut that bastard up for good!”
“See you in Hell, pal,” he said, and turned back into his cell.
“So long, Henry.” Henry will be alone here on death row with me gone, so now he’ll have plenty of quiet time to think, that’s for sure. The preacher and Warden Jones just look at each other and say nothin’, I know the guards behind me are smirkin’, but they keep quiet too. We just keep marchin’ down towards that little green room with all the windows, the chair with the straps and the special bowl under the seat.
I don’t have much thinkin’ time left, do I? It was not thinkin’ that got me here, I mean I sure enough thought about throttlin’ old McAllen, I just never thought I’d really do it. But he just had to say it, didn’t he? One damn time too many, I warned him, but he never listened. I never minded the work, I mean a man’s got to work for living, that’s how it is. The job was fine and even the overtime wasn’t too bad, but the dammed paperwork, that’s what got me. They had a form for everything! Time sheets, job description and parts replacement, mileage and fuel, on and on; but the worst was McAllen always yammerin’ about the paperwork. “The jobs not finished ‘til the paperwork’s done!”
Like I didn’t know! I got to feeling that my life was made of paperwork. I must have spent half my working life filling out that crap that nobody ever looked at. They just put most of it in a file drawer somewhere in case somebody sued and the lawyers needed it. Just havin’ to do it was bad enough but McAllen could never leave it alone, every day, a dozen times a day he’d be on my case to keep up with the paperwork. “Jobs not finished ‘til the paperwork’s done!”
“I know it! You don’t have to keep remindin’ me!” I’d say. “Give it a rest!”
But he didn’t, couldn’t, I guess. He just had to keep hammerin’ at me, sometimes even after I’d got it all done and handed it to him. What’s with someone like that? I told a thousand times, “Quit sayin’ that to me, I’m sick of hearin’ it!”
Well, I don’t know, I don’t really remember real good, one day he said it too often and I just grabbed him by his scrawny neck to shut him up. I shut him up alright, choked the life right out of him before I knew it. Right in front of half the crew, of course, so there wasn’t much the lawyer could do for me. Everybody had heard me threaten him a few times so they got me on murder one and that’s how I got here. So be it! Henry was right; at least I’m done with the damn paperwork. I don’t struggle, I don’t say nothin’, I just sit down in the damn chair and they strap me in. The padre asks if I got any last words, “Naw,” I say, “just get on with it.” I see a bunch of people standin’ behind the window of the witness room, think I saw old McAllen’s wife and Harvey Jensen the owner of the company, then I hear the stuff fall into the bowl and I think, screw ‘em and just start takin’ deep breaths…
“Ok, it’s all over, get up and get going!”
“What the Hell,” I say.
“Where else?” says the guy standing by the bed.
I look around and I’m in this sick green room with no window and this guy in grey coveralls standing there with a clipboard and a pencil. The name tag on his coveralls says “Greeter”.
“Let’s go,” he says.
So I get up and we go out the door and down a wide hall filled with people, about half of them in the same grey coveralls and carrying clipboards. Everyone else is in red coveralls and looking around confused like me. Then I notice that I have on red coveralls too. I pick at the sleeve and say, “Nice threads.”
“Identifies the newbies,” he said.
“I’m supposed to be dead,” I said.
“You are; this is eternal damnation.”
“Then, where are the little demons with pitchforks and the lake of fire?” I ask.
“Oh, they have all that for the true believers, but not for most of us.”
“Then what in the Dev….”
“Don’t say that!” he exclaimed. “You don’t want to call him, we’d both be sorry!”
“Sorry, …then what’s gonna happen?”
“We’re just about there, you’ll find out soon enough.”
We walk out through these big double doors into this stadium sized place filled with great piles of red sand and people in tan coveralls. Here and there I see someone in black coveralls walking around with a whip. Everyone seems to be working in teams of two at each pile of sand. One, down on hands and knees with a little screen sifter and a big magnifying glass and the other one standing making marks on a clipboard with a pencil. It looks like they’re sifting the sand from one big pile into another pile next to it. I saw one of the sifters take a pair of tiny tweezers from his pocket and pick out a grain of sand from the sieve and put it in a little metal can. We walk through the throng to a big desk out in the middle that looks like an information booth. There I’m turned over to one of the guys dressed in black coveralls and carrying a whip. His name tag says, “Supervisor”.
He hands me a clipboard and a pencil and beckons to a guy in tan coveralls holding one of the big magnifying lenses and a sieve. I see he’s also got one of the little metal cans and tweezers in his breast pocket. His name tag says, “Soul Sifter“. “You two come with me,” says the Super.
About then I notice that my coveralls are now tan and my name tag says “Soul Recorder”. We walk out into the piles of sand and find one where there’s no two man team working. “This one’s yours,” says the Super. “Now here’s what you do; the sifter sifts the Soul Pile and makes a new pile over there. If you find a white one, you put it in the can. Put the lid back on tight so’s you don’t spill ‘em back out. If you find a blue one, and you probably won’t, don’t touch it, don’t lose it and call me. I’ll get the safety crew and we’ll come get it.”
“What are those anyway?” asks the sifter.
“Saints!” says the Super. “Rare and dangerous here, shouldn’t be here at all. One gets in the pile by mistake now and then.”
“What about the white ones? I ask.
“They get shipped to the other place.”
“Wow,” exclaims the sifter, “you mean Heav…”
“Don’t say that word here!” interrupts the Super, “You’ll find yourself out there cookin’ with the true believers!”
“Lake of Fire, demons with pitchforks!” I say.
“Right!” says the Super. “You better watch your mouth too, wise guy.”
“Sorry, OK.” I say; thinking I got to wise up and learn the ropes here.
“That leaves all the red ones,” observes the sifter.
“They’re like you guys, they belong to Old Scratch. By the way, I can call him that. You don’t, you don’t even think about him! You get me! and he slashed both of us across the belly with his whip. Both of us were to stunned to reply, we just stared stupidly at the Super who went right on, “Now, the red ones, they’re incoming souls. They come in through the chutes up there in the overhead. You know, the regular dammed, Same like you two. After the first sort here, they’ll get caught up by a collection crew and shifted over to Re-sort, Final Sort and then Reception and then some will end up out here condemned to work pre-sort like you two. Newbies starts here. When you get done with your pile, the specialty team will re-sift for the really nasty ones. Then we collect the rest. Oh, and you’d best make quota.”
“Quota?” we say in unison.
Yeah, Quota,” he says, We make it different every day and we tell you at the end of the shift if you made it or not, so don’t ask.”
“What if we don’t?” says Sifter.
“You’ll find out wise guy!”
“What happens if we miss a white one?” I ask.
“Then we punish you for a while and you do that pile over. There’s a few of ‘em out there going through their pile for the third or fourth time. I don’t recommend it. It’s a lot harder without fingers. Listen up, we got a lotta time to give you incentive to do it right and, believe me pal, there’re worse jobs than these”
“How long is this going to take?” asks my sifter.
“You ask too many questions, pal, doesn’t eternal damnation register with you?” says the Super. “Stay sharp and keep your magnifying glass clean. Bad dust around here. Another thing, with the new economy and the cutbacks…
“Cutbacks? Cutbacks in He…”
“Shut up stupid,” shouts the Super! “That word will get you ten lashes and I’d get a check mark.”
“A check mark? Wha…”
“Shut up and listen! The new lenses are plastic and they get scratched and when they get scratched, you will miss a white one and then you will experience how the system works. And,” he said, turning to look at me, ”We ‘educate’ the partner as well. We certainly can’t have you standing around idle while he attends to lessons, can we?”
“No sir I said,” as I quickly applied my new-found respect to the Super even as I shook my finger at my slow witted Soul Sifter who had his mouth open and about to plunge into a follow-up question which I thought could only result in an immediate “lesson”.
Fortunately for us, I’m pretty sure, he only croaked a strangled, “No sir.”
“So, what about the records?” I ventured.
“Oh yeah, says the Super, “You mark down the counts; four vertical lines and the one through ‘em for each five; red ones on the pink pages and white ones on the white pages. White pages are at the bottom of the pages on your clipboard, you won’t need too many. Don’t mess up the count or you’ll be startin’ over. I already covered that. I come around now and then to collect the can and get your pages. I bring new ones and give you a little incentive to stay careful.” he said, shaking the whip and winking at us.
“Great,” I say, “I can wait. So what happens to the records?”
“We file ‘em in case we ever need to know.”
“You don’t use the numbers somehow? Why do you do it?
“Hey look wise guy, you’re new here; you don’t have a need to know. It’s just part of the job. Like I always say,” he said turning to walk away, “Jobs not finished ‘til the paperwork’s done!”
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