My birth certificate reads Luther Walter Fhume. Although I've used a variety of aliases. I'm the human tool of a fallen angel. My father chose my mother because she could give birth to me, pick a name out of the air, and then easily forget she had ever delivered a child. Drugs owned my mother; my father owned me. He never wanted the inconvenience of a custody fight. Bucking the underworld would be as ineffective as shattering a brick with a plastic knife. But why add unnecessary trouble?
Of course, he didn't give me any earthly support in the ordinary sense. I was born with the innate strength to deal with anything. I knew who I was from childhood. This is fortunate because that time was a waste, eighteen years of drifting from one inept facility to another. For rehabilitation, as if molten lava could be turned into silver tinsel.
Unfortunately, from day one I had an enemy. She never gave me her name. Or showed her face. It was too bright for my dark eyes to see, even if I had wanted to see her. She interfered with the people I hurt. Sometimes she succeeded. I called her Thorn-in-my-neck. She saved my neck at first. Then I realized she had come from the wrong side -- from my point of view anyway.
I don't have an adult arrest record. The law has never managed to follow my intricate trail. After one particularly heinous incident I disappeared for months. By that I don't mean in-an-abandoned-shack hidden. I mean I disintegrated and reassembled my own DNA into a slightly different shape. A few pounds heavier. Younger. Shorter.
Somehow, the people I encountered intuited my secret, although few could ever know my talents reached beyond everyday creativity. Unfortunately, my body lies stiff and cold in the city morgue, currently morphed into an unknown John Doe. I'm writing this story inches away from my own recreated body.
While the cops never caught me, a well-aimed bullet did. Back of the head. Followed by another into my back. I'm not really immortal, as this story would suggest. I am something-in-between. Part Hade's angel and part human.
Unfortunately, this is my last fling on the planet. Hell's goal for me was to make a name for itself, to destroy all attempts at peace, not to become a petty thug and small-time murderer. I failed according to its standards, even if I did belong in eternal fire according to ordinary earth standards. I had spread small-time horror around instead of making a giant, grandiose stand.
Too bad for me. I blame Thorn-in-my-neck. If she hadn't been in my way I could have been a raving success.
My job in the lower realms won't be pretty.
So, I'm paying those devils back! The only item of value I have left behind is a watch. I made sure it fell to the floor as quietly as a single snowflake when I was brought into the morgue. If anyone noticed, they didn't bother to pick it up. After all, I was a useless bum as far as they knew.
That timepiece carries truth. A deeper kind than one that focuses on petty details. It doesn't deny the small stuff; it just doesn't spend a lot of time on who-started-this-mess or on who-started-something-better. This truth goes directly to the soul. And anyone who touches it is forced to live it. For whatever good or evil lives inside them. The truth I chose led me to a toe tag in a morgue. Maybe never having a mother affected me more than I knew. It doesn't matter anymore. I wonder what the next owner will do with that old fob.
I thought about leaving this written confession, too. Then decided against it. Let the fools figure out what to do with the watch. Let them guess who I really am. The dark spirits are calling. I have my own problems.
* * *
"Hey, Jack!" Lucy locked the door to the morgue and then dangled an old-fashioned watch with fob for her coworker to see. "You didn't happen to drop this in there, did you?"
"I use my cell for the time. Certainly would never own something that looks like my great grandfather would have used it. And I'm pretty sure I'd hear something like an ancient watch drop on that floor! Besides, coroner's on vacation this week."
Lucy shrugged. "Gosh, I hated sweeping around dead people. It's spooky. There have got to be cobwebs hiding spiders in the corners, but I ain't cleaning that far."
"Why were you cleaning it today?"
"I don't know. It was on my list." She pulled out her list of duties from her jeans pocket and handed it to him.
He shrugged. "Your supervisor is a fruitcake. Lists! Can't she talk to you?"
Lucy found the lists less frustrating than her supervisor, but thought it was better to remain quiet about it. However, she had found today's job especially disturbing, but didn't know how to explain what had happened. She didn't know who had spoken to her in that silent room either. Her fingertips tingled as she turned the old jewelry from one side to the other. "There's a name printed on it. But the lettering is so small I can't see it."
Jack shrugged. "I'll take a look." He squinted as he looked at it from different angles. "Yeah, it's freaky. A watch on a morgue floor. Maybe one of the guests was doing pushups, set it down and forgot about it."
"Now there's a funny picture. As long as it doesn't really happen." A tingling in Lucy's fingers started and then stopped.
Jack was one of the coroner's assistants. He had been to college. She barely had made it through tenth grade and was grateful to have a job. She'd been hired so long ago she had managed to get in on a good recommendation. New employees needed a diploma. First question.
Jack didn't seem to mind as she followed him to his office.
"Holy excrement!" He showed Lucy the name, enlarged by a bookstore-fancy magnifying glass: Luther Walter Fhume. "Remember that name? How in the world did this show up in our morgue? Can you show me exactly where you found this, dear? The police are going to be very interested. Unless there is some other Luther Walter Fhume."
Lucy stepped back and almost fell over a chair.
"Yeah, I know. Fhume disappeared from the face of the earth. Never had a motive. Then suddenly his watch appears? On a morgue floor of all places."
Her hands had tingled. She wondered why. A lump formed in her throat, one she couldn't swallow.
She must have turned pale because he got up and led her into the chair. "I don't want anyone fainting in my office."
"He killed my sister." She looked directly into his eyes. "Years ago. I was a sophomore in high school. My mother refused to let the press interview me. There were enough witnesses to tell the story. "
Jack nodded. Luther had shot a young girl in broad daylight and then stood there grinning. Just before he ran away he had shrugged and said, "Everybody needs a hobby." Fhume became known in the sensationalized news as the hobby killer.
"Do you want me to get someone to help you?" Jack asked. "Or maybe just a glass of water? I need to notify the authorities about this immediately."
"No thanks," Lucy said, even though she wondered if she had a drop of saliva left in her mouth. She knew she could get the drink by herself. Besides, chances were her hands would shake so much the water would drip down her chin. She didn't want Jack to see that. "Go ahead. I'll be okay."
Jack picked up the phone in his office as he stared at the strange watch on his desk.
"I'm going back to work," Lucy announced.
She nodded. "Yeah, I've just got to go ... do something normal. I'll be in the cafeteria."
"That I can understand," Jack said and then turned toward the phone as she left the office.
A soft voice had been speaking to her, one Jack apparently didn't hear. It was telling her to go to the now-closed cafeteria, her next cleaning assignment. She would understand what was happening then.
Lucy turned on the light in the cafeteria, but it flicked off immediately.
"You won't need that right now," came the voice through a figure so bright she could not see the face.
"Who are you?" Lucy asked.
"Someone once called me Thorn-in-my-neck. But you can call me My-Second-Angel."
"Where is My-First-Angel?" Lucy asked shielding her eyes, her heart beating so fast she could hear it through her ears. "And why did you show up in the morgue and tell me to pick up that watch?"
"One question at a time. My job is to protect the world from creatures like the one who killed your sister and then put a hold on your life. You need to go back to school, girl. Develop some talents."
"But aren't the police going to question me to death? Isn't this going to open up the whole ugly story again?"
"It will," the bright figure answered. "It will. Expect tears. And the killer will never be found. Supernatural barriers are in the way. However, you will charm someone from the other side of the country who will foot the bill for your education. Your honesty has already been rewarded. This may sound strange, but not everyone is allowed access to a morgue, even to sweep away cobwebs. I suggested they hire you whether you had education or not. Of course the man who made the decision didn't know I had anything to do with it. I've been present to you more than you know.
"But you haven't waited to hear the answer to your first question: Where is My-First-Angel?"
"I have one?"
"You have many. The first one is here." The bright light figure touched one finger to her chest. "Inside here. You have been granted a gift of truth. That doesn't mean you need to give details about the supernatural to people who aren't ready for it. It means that the truth of goodness, the real-of-what-is will shine through you, even when parts of the facts are difficult at the time."
"Truth? What kind of gift is that?"
The city was nowhere near a fault line, but Lucy felt the ground tremble as if an earthquake had begun. She could have sworn she heard a groan, deep and miserable, rise from under the cafeteria floor.
Seconds later the bright vision disappeared and the electricity turned on. She had a job to do. Some of it would be ordinary ... Some would be so outlandish no amount of truth could ever find words to explain what was happening.