Short Fiction: The Record Keepers

The dead man glanced up from the manila folder pressed under his nose to glare at the suited man hovering above him. The man who had addressed himself as “Lucifer, Satan, the Dark One—whatever mind you,” peered down at him from beneath a pair of thin, wire-rimmed glasses.

“I don’t understand,” the dead man said, and Lucifer sighed, arms folding across his crisp lapel; something gray and expensive, with a purple tie and a paisley pocket square to match.

“What do you mean you don’t understand? It’s fairly simple logic. Open the folder, read the name, sort it into Heaven or Hell. Easy.”

“Yeah, easy,” the dead man echoed, staring up at the 10,000-file stack in his inbox, bulge forming in his throat at the realization that this pile was only from the last half hour.

“If you have any concerns, feel free to contact the human resources department,” Lucifer said. “You may also consider speaking with Charon, he is the district manager of the record keepers. He should be more than willing to answer any of your questions as long as you make it worth his while.” Lucifer smirked to himself, his lips thinning as they spread upward until there was almost nothing left of them; nothing to suggest that his mouth was anything more than a black hole in the center of his face. With, of course, the exception of two even rows of perfectly bleached teeth.

“You also might consider directing your questions to your fellow coworkers, though they usually prefer to remain undisturbed,” Lucifer continued, gesturing with a flattened palm at the rows of cubicles that extended beyond the dead man’s view.

The dead man could only make out the tops of most of the workers’ heads, with the exception of the few cubicles nearby. The woman directly behind him was hunched over a stack of papers similar to his own, stapling in a steady rhythm of thump, swish, thump, swish, thump. Every forth staple she missed the corner of the page, puncturing, instead, the skin between her thumb and forefinger, but she didn’t seem to feel it—or if she did, she no longer cared—because she continued the rhythm uninterrupted.

Beside her, a man with a Bluetooth headset strapped to his ear mumbled into the mouthpiece. On the gray carpet wall beside his desk was a pale blue poster of a tiny yellow kitten, its head turned to a rope dangling high above it in the shape of a noose. The words “hang in there” were etched sardonically across the bottom.

The dead man cringed.

Other than the single cat poster, the walls of the cubicles were barren. Even the office walls, a stark eggshell smelling of fresh paint, untainted by scratches or the pinprick holes left behind by thumbtacks, were unusually empty. The only exception was the clock that ticked above the copy machine. It had no numbers, only a second hand that zoomed around in circles, never once hesitating before moving along its predestined path.

The dead man glanced down at the folder that lay in front of him, eyes swerving to the name, Hannah LeMark, in clearly stenciled letters across the top.

He had no interest in the names written in elegant, golden cursive instead of the roughly outlined block letters. He didn’t want to know where they went. Well, he knew where they went, but he didn’t want to know the details. That meant it was real, a place where only the best of the best got to go. A place better than this one. Lucky bastards. So far, there had only been three; three names out of hundreds written in that flowing script.

He should have known from the beginning that getting into Heaven wouldn’t be easy: like receiving a Nobel Peace Prize or curing cancer. Easy for the point one percent, not so much for everyone else.

Standing at the copier, a man in a blood red tie and aged, gray suit jacket pressed the green “copy” button over and over. The machine whirred, shuddered, and choked. An error message popped up on the screen: paper jam in compartment 4a. The man opened the side door that led to the gut of the machine, reaching in and tugging; twisting nobs and adjusting levers until a crumpled piece of toner-streaked paper came out in pieces. He reset the levers, closed the door, and pressed start. The machine whirred, shuddered, and choked. Error.

“What about break times?” the dead man said, drawing a small pile of folders from the much larger stack towering above him. He eyed Lucifer who had pulled out his iPhone—the latest edition, something gold—and seemed to have lost interest in the plight of his newest employee; the jingling theme of Candy Crush chimed out from his small device.

Ignored, the dead man flipped through the files, one after another: Heaven, Hell, Hell, Hell, Hell. He would need a break soon, before all of this really went to his head. “How about lunch?”

Lucifer arched an eyebrow, his expression drawing higher, making his forehead wrinkle. “No such thing, kid,” he said. “No need. You’re dead.”

The dead man placed a hand on his gut, shifting in his seat. The plastic surface squealed in protest and he paused, stomach trembling under his palm. “But I can feel my stomach growling.”

Lucifer frowned, backing away with a sigh. “You’ll get over it. It’s always hard to break mortal habits. You’ll learn to forget eventually. Enjoy your stay in hell.”

“Thanks,” the dead man mumbled. He stared at his inbox: 10,492.

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