Scratch cards for salvation

Jack had been waiting for his own office for over five hundred years now, up to this point his afterlife had been hectic, running here and running there, but now, finally, his clients will come to him. With the changes going on since God stepped down, it had left an empty office, and a new job, ‘Officer in charge of Heavenly affairs’. Jack jumped at the chance to have a static job, and no more having to visit those poor souls for whom suicide seems the best choice. They had tried over the years with different ways to ease the pain at the end for these poor souls, but God had not really been convinced with any of them. Jack had some memories, like the guy who just ran up and hurdled the retaining wall of a skyscraper, plummeting to his death in absolute silence, amazing, or the guy he just wanted to push off the bridge after reliving scenarios that did not paint the man in a very good light. He enjoyed getting to know them, having a smoke together, and being able to answer any questions they have at what was a very important part of their lives, imminent death. He wondered if he could write an autobiography of his after life, all those funny stories, shocking revelations, stories on how low the human race could get, just to get ahead, and the freedom of his role.

In a meeting last week with Jesus, they had come up with a plan of a lottery system to get you in to heaven, purgatory or hell. Mortals seemed to have taken a shine to the idea of scratch cards, to win a variety of prizes, they would take the same approach, and the idea had mushroomed from there. Jack eagerly awaited his first client, and for the the time being, he would have to explain the rules to each one when they arrived, they were having flyers printed to give a brief outline of the procedure, but they had put the wording in the hands of William Shakespeare, and he was so pedantic about the words it took him months to be happy with what he had written. Apparently, Jacks wording lacked flow, rhythm and a little sparkle, whatever, he thought. Anyhoo, Three flames get you sent down stairs, three clouds gets you upstairs, and everything else gets you sent to purgatory.

“…….and if you end up going to purgatory, you will be able to earn more cards while you are there for various jobs you take or good deeds you do” Jack finished explaining to Mr Sparrow, as a wide screen TV started to lower from the ceiling of the office.
“If you just look at the screen, it will show your good deeds, bad deeds or any high points, then at the end it will calculate the number of scratch cards you get, if any, hahaha” Jack said trying to make that last bit less glum, and the show started. It began with a deathly silent school room with children wordlessly amusing themselves, some drew pictures, some read books, while others played various board games,
“Right, here we have you at secondary school, oohh that’s sweet, a sponsored silence, how much did you raise John?” Jack asked eagerly,
“Oh, I am not sure, about £200, I guess” John replied sheepishly,
“Well baring any mishaps that will earn you four scratch cards” Jack added with a gleeful tone, his face soon dropped to disappointment as he read a printout from the machine on the edge of the table,
“Oh, no, you skimmed £200 off with a back up sponsorship form” Jack said in a disappointed tone, looking across at John as he hung his head in shame,
“Not cool, just not cool, no cards for that young man, and I hoped you are ashamed of yourself, should we continue is the question” added Jack shaking his head, and tutting.

Purpleheart with highlights of Ebony, A4 aperture. More at Bespoke Woods Facebook page.

It never got any better for John, clip after clip, showing him to be just a bully, from school up to about six weeks ago. There were some real horror clips amongst them. Apart from being a bully he also had a tendency to be an unfaithful partner, if he saw a woman he liked he would pursue her, get what he wanted and then go cold, all the while his wife was waiting at home for his return, unaware of what was going on. He did help an old lady carry her shopping in one of the clips, which earned him a silver level scratch card, but little else. He was a despicable little man, Jack though, and began to root for him to earn no cards, purgatory was a god awful place the fluorescent tube that flickered and hummed all day, every day, the squeaky chalk board, that fucking door that always closed with a bang, hateful place. A few centuries down there would wipe the smile of this mans face, the hope of getting out of there would kill your spirit as the decades passed slowly by. Jack fast forwards through the advert for various businesses, the ‘Last Supper Restaurant and Grill’, ‘Garden of Eden Horticultural Supplies’, ‘Noah and Sons Cruises’ and ‘MacDonalds’, and once more they watched a clip from this mans life.

The next video showed a clean, but dimly lit gents toilet, there was a school girl chuckle coming from one of the stalls, as the camera zooms, in there are three smartly dressed young men, with a roll of cling film,
“Oh no, no, no, no, no, this is not getting any better for you, it may have been funny to cling film the toilet bowl to catch out a bullied co-worker, but it is far from it, and what a mess it made, did you know poor Mr Brown went on to have a full mental breakdown and this was the straw that broke the camels, we will not go in to what came before, like placing a raw egg inside the toe of his shoe, which cracked as he put them back on, and all those other horrid little tricks, poor man, what did he do to deserve that?” Jack barked at his interviewee, while John just sat and sunk, deeper in to his seat, looking at his trainers, with such a redness coming to his face that Jack thought he could feel the heat radiating from it. Jack pressed furiously at the remote control to get the next snippet from John Sparrows life up on screen. Jack pulled a cigarette from the white pack on the table, but could not even bring himself to offer one to John,’fuck him’, Jack thought to himself, taking a long drag on his smoke. The picture flickered in to life, a full hospital ward, five beds on each side, at the end of the ward, by the window, sits John flicking through his iPad,
“Ahh, this is more like it” Jack said eagerly fingering the printout as it spewed forth from the printer,
“Your one good deed of your life, donating bone marrow, that poor boy suffering with leukaemia, one selfless act to save a child’s life, and this kid will go on to do great things” Jack said in total disbelief and relief, he even cracked a smile, stubbing out his smoke, he tore the printout off,
“Well, well, you had gone down to one card, it almost certainly would have got you a stay over in purgatory, unless you are a lucky son of a…., well, well, not only did you get back up to ten scratch cards, nine of them are gold, top level with a definite chance of heaven or hell as your final destination, well done” Jack said unable to control the joy in his voice,
“Right, so this means your luck will decide where you are going to go” Jack said handing him over the cards,
“Do you have a coin or a key on you John, to scratch the silver off with?” Jack asked as he fumbled in his own pockets, just in case.
“Yeah, thanks, I have my lucky silver dollar here, thank you” John said with his equilibrium returning back to cocky prick from humbled sinner, and he began to scratch the one silver card in his pack,
“Oh, you got lucky, if that had been your only card, you would be in purgatory by now, hahaha, oh I should also mention if you get both heaven and hell come up in those cards, you get to choose which you will redeem, ok?” Jack said slapping his forehead in self castigation, John scratched his second and third card to find neither. By the time he had scratched his seventh card he was visibly shaking, still no prize, on his ninth he had two cloud on the first two lines, the tremble became more evident, and then he hit his first flame in the seventh box, another in the eighth box, beads of sweat formed on Johns brow, and rolled down his face unnoticed, it made Jack shudder, and maniacally scratching and wiping his own face. John sat back in his seat, with the ninth box unscratched, he took a long breath deep breath and gently exhaled, kissing the coin as he did so. The coin hovered above the box for what seemed to Jack to be hours, but in truth it had only been thirty seconds or so, he heard John saying under his breath ‘come on baby, you can do it’, he began to scratch, only to reveal the third flame,
“BOOM!, there you go chap, you were one cloud away from heaven, then three flames in a row, ouch, that must have hurt” Jack said trying to control his mirthful tone, John just dropped the coin and put both hands on his head in disbelief, a tear formed in the corner of his right eye and rolled lazily down his cheek.
“Hey, hey, come on, you still have one card left, you never know, you said you were lucky” Jack said trying to jolly him along, if there was one thing Jack couldn’t bear it was a bawling client.

John picked up the last card, and held it in front of him, almost as though he was trying to see through it, to see if it was a winner, then he used it to brush up the crumbs of silver from the previous nine cards, sweeping it off the table in to his free hand, and depositing the silver dust in to the ashtray, he tapped the edge of the card on the table half a dozen times trying to knock the luck in to it, he then laid it reverently on to the table, squaring it up to the edge of the table, once more kissing the coin as he brought it down on to the first box, once more mumbling, ‘come on baby, come on’, under his breath as he scratched at the first box, nothing, deep breath, second box, a cloud, a strong ‘YES’ was mumbled under a held breath, third box, nothing, fourth box, a flame, fifth box, sixth box, nothing, seventh box, a cloud, another strong, ‘yes’ was muttered, eighth box, a flame. The tension once again rose, what lay beneath that solitary silver coloured box, a flame? A cloud? He was already going to hell if this last scratch went against him, he sat there and pictured the cloud, one cloud and he would have his fate in his own hands, and who the fuck would choose hell? he thought to himself, one last deep breath, one last kiss of his lucky coin, his trembling hand hovered just above the final box, he felt a prickle all over his skin, and with trepidation he began to scratch, nothing, he continued to scratch vigorously until he was scratching the varnish off the table top, Jack ventured a hand out and placed it on the hand still feverishly scratching away,
“Come on son, stop now, that’s enough” Jack said in his most sympathetic tone, trying to calm John as he sat there and muttered a single word over and over again through clenched teeth,’fuck, fuck, fuck’, his hand slowed and stopped under the pressure of Jacks hand.

After fifteen minutes Jack had managed to calm John, and given him a nice cup of sweet tea. As these two men sat and smoked, they drank their tea, Jack asked John a question,
“So, what did for you in the end John, accident? Illness? Or misadventure?” He asked softly,
“You wouldn’t believe it, you could not write it. While I was doing, possibly, the only good deed I have ever done, donating the bone marrow for that little kiddie, I came down with a super virus, never left hospital again, died six weeks after I contracted a flesh eating virus, pain? Oh man that was real pain, and changing the dressings would make me pass out, worst six weeks of my life” John said, now with a hint of humour in his voice. Jacks mouthful of tea sprayed the office as he failed to hold on to the hysterical laugh until he had swallowed his brew.


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