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Authors: Donald J. Amodeo

Dead & Godless

BOOK: Dead & Godless
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DEAD & GODLESS

DONALD J. AMODEO

Dead & Godless

Donald J. Amodeo

DeadAndGodless.com

 

Copyright © 2013 by Donald J. Amodeo

All rights reserved.

 

Edited by Penny Fletcher (PennyFletcher.com),
with contributions by Christine Amodeo and Steven Kospender.

 

All referenced brands and artistic
works are the property of their respective owners.

 

Cover design by Renu Sharma

TheDarkRayne.com

 

ISBN 978-0-9910366-7-7

1

The Reaper Rides the J Line

A deep freeze
iced the gears of time, entombing the city in day-long twilight. Corwin drank
it in and threw out his chest. His breath steamed with satisfaction.

“There’s
nothing like the smell of the subway in winter! Garbage, piss and a fresh coat
of bleach—I love public transportation!”

“Great,
then you won’t mind us making an extra stop,” Mary said cheerily, her auburn
hair bouncing as she descended the stairway beside him. “I need to drop a few
things off at my mom’s place.”

“Hasn’t
she had the place blessed to ward off people like me?”

“She
doesn’t hate you, Corwin.” Mary’s smile was unwavering. “Quite the opposite. She
prays every night for the conversion of your stubborn atheist soul.”

“Wonderful.”

“I
know you’re just dying to argue with her, but I do appreciate your discretion.”

“A
wise man chooses his battles,” said Corwin in a stoic tone.

Mary
cast him a warm glance. Her mother was one of the few people with whom Corwin
resisted the urge to debate all things metaphysical (or superstitious, as he
preferred to say).

“Visiting
doesn’t make you feel too uncomfortable, I hope?”

“Not
at all! The fact that your mother’s house has more crucifixes than the Vatican makes me feel right at home.”

Corwin’s
boots clomped onto off-white tiles at the foot of the stairs. They were taking
the J line and had made good time. The next train was yet several minutes away.
In this cold, at least he didn’t have to worry about the ice cream melting. He
lugged two overstuffed bags of groceries, snowflakes dusting his shoulders and
flaxen hair.

“What’s
all the commotion?” inquired Mary.

Following
her gaze, Corwin noticed an odd sight ahead. The usually scattered crowds had
congregated around a single spot near the edge of the platform. A hum of
anxious voices joined the rustling of coats as they pressed in for a closer
look.

“Somebody
should do something,” muttered a short, round-faced woman.

Corwin
peered over her head and spied the cause of the scene. A homeless man lay
sprawled on the tracks, his grubby fingers still gripping the neck of a liquor
bottle in a paper bag. He might have been asleep, knocked out or already dead
for all Corwin could tell, but whatever the case, the man wasn’t moving.

“Check
this out!” exclaimed a teenage girl, holding her phone aloft to record the
event.

“Do
you think the train will hit him?” asked one of her giggling friends.

“If
it does, this video is totally getting a million hits!”

“What
the hell is wrong with you?” snapped Mary.

Without
waiting for a reply, she pushed forward and crouched towards the ledge.

“Hold
it,” said Corwin with a firm grasp on her sleeve. She shot him a look of iron
resolve, but he wasn’t letting go. “Are you really planning to drag that guy up
here?”

“Somebody
has to.”

“He’s
probably twice your weight!”

Staring
into her eyes, Corwin sighed, fully aware that it would take more than the laws
of physics to keep Mary off those tracks.

“Listen,
there’s no need for both of us to climb down,” he reasoned. “I’ll do the
dragging. You wait here and help pull him up.”

The J
line’s platform was one-sided, with the rear wall of the station rising
opposite the ledge and sporting some freshly-inked graffiti. Before Mary or his
own better judgment could object, he plopped the groceries down beside her and
leapt onto the tracks.

What
have I gotten myself into this time?

The
tracks suddenly felt a lot lower than they had looked from atop the platform.
Corwin glanced back to make sure Mary wasn’t following and his gaze briefly wandered
the crowd. A young woman clutched her purse, its leather studded with a silver
ichthys—the Greek symbol for fish that Christians had repurposed, now the
latest in Jesus fashion. Off to her right, a rabbi stroked his beard pensively,
looking on from under the wide brim of his derby hat.

That’s
right, just leave it to the godless heathen,
thought Corwin with smug irony.
But then again, he couldn’t really blame them. They were the sane ones. It was
he who was defying all good sense, risking his neck for the sake of some
homeless drunk whose greatest contribution to society was warming a park bench.

Corwin
leaned over the man and grimaced from the stench. He reeked of alcohol and old
socks, and looked no better, with bits of food lodged in his dark, scraggly
beard.

“Hey
buddy, wake up!”

He
jostled him by the shoulder. No response. From the shadowy depths of the
tunnel, a low, rhythmic rumble arose. A light pierced the gloom.

“Come
on!”

With
a hard pat on the cheek, Corwin elicited a weary groan from the man. He was
starting to awaken, but not fast enough.
I haven’t got time for this.
Hooking his hands under the man’s armpits, he struggled to heave him towards
the platform. To Corwin’s relief, a tall fellow in glasses and a trench coat set
down his briefcase to offer assistance.

“You
take one arm, I’ll take the other,” he said, rushing onto the tracks.

Corwin
wasn’t about to argue. With each passing second, the metallic roar grew louder.
Was it possible that the train would brake in time? Surely somebody had to have
called 911. That is, unless everyone in the crowd was under the assumption that
someone else had already called. The Bystander Effect. Corwin had heard of it
before, though he never expected to be a living example.

“Give
us a hand!” yelled his partner as they neared the ledge.

Summoning
the wherewithal to stand, the homeless man planted his feet, but his balance failed
him. Luckily Mary reached down and grabbed one of his hands. Corwin pushed from
behind, and soon others in the crowd were helping to haul him up. The tall
businessman vaulted onto the platform.

“Thanks
for the help,” Corwin called after him.

“You
can pay me back later.”

“Hurry!”
urged Mary.

Corwin
didn’t dare look towards the train. He boosted the vagabond with one last shove
and clasped Mary’s outstretched hand. Safety was only a short climb away. Then
a heavy boot struck him square in the chest.

While
clambering onto the platform, the drunk’s knee had slipped, his clumsy kick
finding its mark at just the wrong moment. Corwin felt Mary’s fingers slip from
his grasp. He was falling. A steel rail greeted the back of his skull with a
sharp
thunk
.

Blacking
out for an instant, a surge of adrenaline was the only thing that kept him
conscious. He vaguely heard Mary screaming over the ringing in his ears.

“Corwin,
get up! Corwin!”

As he
turned his head, the world blurred into slow motion, yet one thing was crystal
clear. In that split second, he saw every dent, every scratch in the paint,
every glimmer of light reflected in the glass. The look of horror on the conductor’s
face was burned into his mind. Corwin had never seen anything as vividly as he
saw the front of that train speeding towards him.

A
chill draft pulled at his cashmere coat. He felt his heart beating, the cool
touch of the steel tracks, and then Corwin felt nothing at all.

Sparks
flew from the
rails and the brakes squealed in protest as the J scraped to an emergency stop.
Mary collapsed to her knees, her eyes wide with a vacant stare. She couldn’t
cry out, couldn’t speak. The breath had been robbed from her lungs. It all
seemed so unreal.

“Get yer
hands offa me!” slurred the drunk beside her.

With
a violent twist, he shook free from the grip of those who had helped to pull
him out of harm’s way. The stunned commuters parted before him. Bleary eyed, he
glared into the crowd, completely oblivious to what had just taken place. No
one spoke a word to explain, not that he would have listened. Only hushed
voices and quiet sobs filled the station.

Spitting
curses, the man stomped off for the stairs.

“Don’t
nobody in this town know how to mind their own damn business?”

2

Legal Representation

Corwin was dead.
And yet he still
was
. Like a man half dreaming and half awake, he gazed
down upon the station with a peculiar sense of detachment. His body, or what
remained of it, was hidden from view beneath the train cars, a spatter of blood
on the headlights the only sign of his untimely passing. He imagined himself as
an unrecognizable smear staining the tracks. The thought didn’t bother him.

From
above, the shuffling crowd was all heads and shoulders, but Mary’s green
sweater was impossible to miss. She knelt beside the edge of the platform with
her head in her hands. A pang of guilt struck him. She was everything good
about this rotten world, and now he was leaving her. How could he have been so
careless? He yearned to swoop down, wipe the tears from her eyes and whisper a promise
that he would always be there. A kind lie, one that would forever go untold. An
irresistible force was pulling him away from her, away from all that he knew, and
there was no use fighting it. It was time to go.

Corwin
belatedly realized that reaching out and touching anything was beyond his power,
for he had nothing to reach out with. Thinking of sight, he saw. Thinking of
sound, he heard. But Corwin had no eyes or ears. Lighter than air and even less
tangible, he was a consciousness without a body.

This
can’t be real.

An
exhilarating sense of freedom filled him, but also a creeping dread. This
weightless, borderless realm of the spirit was an exciting place to visit, but
he was
at home
in a body, and the prospect of not returning to one made
him feel lost, incomplete.

The
ceiling of the subway station sank through him like a cement cloud. Soon snowy
streets were receding below. An endless procession of cars and pedestrians
hurried about the business of life. Cyclists tempted fate, weaving in and out of
traffic while travelers waved down taxis and beggars tried to wring the last
drops of sympathy from a city that was running dry. Broad windows climbed a high-rise
office building where room after room of workers hunched towards computer screens,
their fingers rattling keys. They didn’t look particularly happy.

At
least that’s over with.

He
ascended higher, past the tallest rooftops and loftiest spires, until all the
city spread forth beneath him, a concrete expanse that faded to white hills and
misty waters on the horizon. Here, so close to their birthplace, the snowflakes
whirred with youthful vitality. They danced in the wind’s embrace, seesawing
and gusting, obscuring the land behind a wondrous veil that grew thicker as he
rose.

A
dense sheet of clouds swallowed him and the busy world slipped away. Corwin was
somewhere new, somewhere dark.

“Hello?”
he called out into the solemn shadows.

The
sound of his own voice affirmed what he knew instinctively, that his vocal
cords were back where they belonged. He blinked, felt solid ground under his
feet.

“Is
anyone there?”

Corwin’s
words bounced off walls high and far. It was his only clue as to the size of
the place, for the darkness was so complete that he could scarcely tell whether
his eyes were open or closed. A profound silence descended as the last echo
died. Extending his arms, he quested a few tentative steps.

Straight
ahead, a brilliant light blossomed, its gleam giving shape to a long corridor
ribbed with soaring gothic arches.

“Really?
A light at the end of a tunnel?” remarked Corwin incredulously. “You’d think that
they could come up with something different for a guy who just got hit by a
subway train.”

Having
nowhere else to go, he set off towards the beckoning light, admitting that he
was indeed curious about its source. Radiantly aglow with shimmers of blue and
gold, it at first gave the impression of being a doorway, but upon drawing
near, Corwin found himself staring through the panes of a tall, arched window.

The
shining land on the other side took his breath away. Across a diamond sea, the
walls of an idyllic city rose from a shoreline. Pearlescent towers and the
boughs of huge, verdant trees peeked over the parapets, converging towards a
column of solid light that lanced from the center of the city into the heavens.
Waterfalls cascaded off the rocky cliffs of islands that floated amidst the
clouds, and innumerable stars beamed brightly through the crisp blue of the
midday sky.

Corwin
pressed his palms to the glass, straining his eyes to take it all in, but the
land was so very far away. He could only glimpse its splendor from where he
stood in the passage.

To
his left the hallway bent and he noticed two more windows, identical in size
and shape, but offering altogether different views.

“Somebody
must have slipped some LSD into my coffee this morning.”

The
first revealed a wooded valley where mossy fountains rilled under the shade of
poplars and cypress trees. In the middle was a meadow, upon which a great
carpet had been spread. Threads of gold and lavender wove patterns through the
deep red tapestry. Atop it, a king’s feast was laid out, fixed with succulent
meats and glazed pastries that made Corwin’s mouth water just looking at them. Piles
of treasure were heaped, sparkling jewels and doubloons and stacks of dollar
bills. Beautiful young men and women lounged in faceless masks, a few strips of
silk their only clothing. Wisps of smoke wafted from hookahs and wine glistened
in crystal carafes. And there were also more abstract prizes, plaques of honor and
ticking timepieces and mirrors.

But
for all the pleasures that the tapestry promised, no one was indulging. A
middle-aged man stood off to the side, emptying his pockets. He tossed silver
coins one-by-one onto the carpet, and it seemed that parting with each pained
him greatly. However, his expression eased as his pockets lightened. Others
strolled amidst the trees and fountains, free but not quite at peace. Corwin
could sense a distinct loneliness in the air, the longing of separated lovers,
desperately hoping to reunite.

Approaching
the last window, he gazed out across the dunes of a searing desert. Lines of
emaciated figures marched, their sallow skin stretched taut against their bones.
They were shackled at the ankles and joined with long chains. Flames leapt from
the blistering sand wherever their bare feet stepped, and their backs were bent
with the weight of ponderous slabs of rock. Corwin watched as one man set down
his boulder, only to pile another atop it before heaving them both onto his bony
shoulders. The whip of a hulking guard with the head of goat lashed his back,
and wearily he resumed his march.

An
obsidian tower loomed beyond the desert. Like the tip of a spear, its
monolithic walls tapered sharply, stabbing at the cloudless sky. Farther still,
a column of light arose, not unlike the one that he had seen through the first
window. But while that column had been a beacon of life, here its blaze
scorched the land, bringing only misery and death. It occurred to Corwin that
this whole world was a twisted reflection of that one, the glittering sea
replaced by a barren sea of sand, the twinkling stars swapped for the dust
rings of shattered moons.

From
the tower a sonorous bell tolled. The damned paused in their march and a cold
hand closed around Corwin’s heart. The bell was tolling for him, claiming him.
He covered his ears.

“Get
out of my head!”

With
a determined effort he wrenched himself away from the joyless window. Silence
returned at once, calming his nerves as he pressed on.

He
didn’t have far to go before the hallway came to an end, and there stood a white
door. It was cracked, a sliver of warm light spilling out into the passage.
Corwin clutched the knob and ventured cautiously within. The room that met his
eyes had all the trappings of a posh corner office, minus the view. No windows
disturbed the walls. The carpet was burgundy, the hardwood furniture polished
to a shine. Fine art and framed certificates hung proudly, alongside glass
shelves where bottled ships and samurai swords and all manner of curious
trinkets perched.

Before
Corwin could study any of them too closely, something gave him pause. He wasn’t
alone. At the sound of a carefree voice, he spun to his right.

“Corwin
Francis Holiday, I presume,” spoke a man seated behind an executive desk.
“Well, not that it’s much of a presumption. Considering that my secretary
hasn’t made a single mistake in the last eight hundred years, I’m quite certain
that you’re Corwin.”

“I, that
is, yes,” stammered Corwin, eyeing the man suspiciously. He was positive that
no one had been there a moment ago.

The gray-eyed
stranger twirled a pen in one hand, his relaxed demeanor testifying that,
unlike his guest, he apparently found nothing about the present situation to be
out of the ordinary. A wave of dirty blonde hair contrasted with his dark
eyebrows and the stubble that shaded his chin. He was maybe in his mid-thirties.
He wore a charcoal suit, perfectly tailored, with a matching tie and a white collared
shirt.

“Please,
have a seat,” he said, indicating a chair that sat opposite the desk. “Make
yourself comfortable.”

Not
taking his eyes off the man, Corwin lowered himself awkwardly into the chair. The
stranger drew a tin cigarette case from his breast pocket and flipped it open.

“Care
for a smoke?”

“I
don’t smoke,” replied Corwin.

“No,
of course you don’t, or at least you never have, but if you ever wanted to try,
well, now’s the time! I mean, you’re already dead. What’s the harm?”

“I’ll
pass,” Corwin insisted.

“Suit
yourself.”

Putting
the cigarette to his lips, he snapped his fingers and a tiny flame sparked to
life, hovering above one fingertip. A spiced aroma filled the air as he puffed
contentedly and sank a little deeper into his seat.

Corwin
was still at a loss.

“And
you would be . . .”

“Attorney
Ransom J. Garrett, at your service.”

With
another snap, a beveled glass nameplate instantly appeared on the desk,
denoting its owner in bold text, with the words “Attorney at Law” centered just
underneath. He reached over and Corwin absently shook his hand.

“I’ll
be representing you,” continued Ransom.

“Representing
me?” echoed Corwin with a quizzical look.

“In
the trial, naturally. I believe your kind call it a Final Judgment.”

For a
long second Corwin’s jaw hung open. Then something clicked in his mind.
Realization dawned and he burst into a chuckle.

This
time it was Ransom who looked confused.

“This
is finally starting to make sense!” declared Corwin. “Everything that I’m
experiencing right now, it’s all a dream, a very vivid dream!” He plucked a
bronze paperweight off the desk, tossed it and caught it with a swipe of his
hand. “It truly is astonishing to think that the human mind is capable of such
a convincing illusion!”

“That
train must have hit you pretty hard,” remarked Ransom.

“Indeed,”
Corwin assured him. “Why, I’m probably as good as dead, but it’s been shown
that just before a man dies, there’s one last surge of brain activity.”

“And
that’s what you think this is?”

“What
else could it be?” He fixed Ransom with a knowing stare. “You said ‘your kind’
earlier, which is to say that you’re not a human, but an–”

“An
angel,” Ransom offered.

“Yes,
an angel! Don’t you see it?”

Ransom
was scratching his head.

“I
might not be a Christian, but I was born into a Christian culture. Heck, I even
went to Catholic school for a few years. Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, angels . . .
It’s only natural that such images would linger in the back of my mind.

“Had I
been born somewhere else, maybe things would be different,” Corwin went on.
“Instead of an angel, you might have been one of my ancestors, or Buddha, or my
animal spirit guide.”

Propping
one elbow on his desk, Ransom buried his face in his palm and massaged his
aching temples.

“I
think we could both use a drink,” he decided, promptly rising and heading for the
liquor cabinet.

Fetching
a stout crystal flask, he produced two rocks glasses and set them on the bar, then
bent down to open a wood panel door that blended with the rest of the cabinetry.
Inside was a small freezer, from which he drew a pail of ice and tongs.

“What
can I get you? Bourbon? Scotch? Gin?” With each word, Ransom flicked the side
of the flask, the shade of the liquid within changing from amber to gold to
clear.

“No
thanks,” Corwin replied. “If this is to be my last dream, I believe I’d like to
stay sober for it.”

“I
sure wouldn’t,” muttered Ransom, ice cubes tinking as he tipped back his glass.

He
replaced the stopper and brought the flask with him as he returned to his
tufted chair behind the desk.

“Don’t
you think this is a rather long dream for someone whose skull is no longer in
one piece?”

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