As it happens, purgatory is located in a Hilton in Columbus, Ohio. More specifically, in conference room 2C, right next to the escalators and down the hall from the wedding venue. One would assume the billions of souls would notice that they are dead and this is purgatory. And one also would assume that the people of Columbus would seem to notice the very hearty business at the Hilton, but none do. So it can be believed that all of Columbus, Ohio, is as observant as a rock.
All the souls in purgatory attend the Romance Writers Convention that takes place day after day. Perhaps it is some divine joke. Every morning they put on badges that say things like “Sarah M. Pagan, New Hampshire” and take their seats. Souls, as everyone knows, take up very little space. So there they sit, eating unbuttered toast and listening to the latest speaker.
Dorothy Sullivan stood at the lectern, as she has done for the past forty-three years, and continued her presentation on euphemisms for the male organ.
“Of course,” Dorothy says, “You can’t just say penis. The reader will quickly lose interest. This is not smut! There needs to be a connection, an emotional bond between the torn soul reading your book and that hard piece of masculinity.”
Peter, the only angel allowed in Hell, sat in the back of the conference room and leaned in close to Krim, the only demon allowed in Heaven. The two met annually every Christmas.
“She’s quite energetic,” Peter said.
“She’s awful, that’s what she is,” Krim replied.
Dorothy continued with her presentation.
“Let me read you an example from my most recent book,” Dorothy said. “His steel rod came to life like an erupting water spigot as the Countess Venezuela vigorously touched Dr. Ven Der Ships manhood. It was as if the Countess was greeting an old friend with a hearty handshake.”
Peter snorted through his hooked nose and slapped his gimp leg. Like all angels, he was hideous to look at. There was an open sore under his left eye and his teeth were the same color as his brown hair. On the other hand, Peter never ate the last French fry and always replaced the empty toilet paper roll.
Krim, though, was a very handsome demon that made kicking puppies a spectator sport.
“Alright,” Krim said. “What’s the plan?”
“So you’re in?” Peter asked.
“Yes. I can’t take another day in Heaven. You guys sing too damn much.”
“Good, because if I have to go back to Heaven’s Embassy in Hell, I’m going to vomit. Why does it stink down there so much?”
“No windows,” Krim said.
“Fair point. Okay, well, we have to go native. That’s it. We have to show the bosses that we are starting to sympathize with the enemy. That their culture is taking over. And when that happens, they’ll bring us both home. Our replacements will take over,” Peter explained.
“Why don’t we just leave? Shut down the Embassies and let war happen?”
“Because it can’t work that way. There has to be a balance. Good and Evil, there can never be just one. So we keep the lines of communication open. Hell’s Embassy in Heaven, Heaven’s in Hell. If the embassies shut down, it’s war. And no matter who wins, existence ends because there is no balance,” Peter said.
“No angel ever comes into my embassy to talk,” Krim said. “I get protested a lot.”
“No one likes my gift baskets.”
“So… I gotta do good deeds, then? Do I have to like them? And can’t I just do one big good deed and get it over with?”
“No. It can’t be huge; it has to be subtle. Like, no curing cancer or bringing back the McRib. Small things. Hug an orphan. Listen to a friend. Things like that,” Peter said.
“Jesus Fucking Christ,” Krim said and chomped down his perfect teeth. “I’m not hugging anyone. What about you? How do you get back into Heaven if you got all this sin on you?”
“Absolution,” Peter responded. “I will be washed clean. Right before we are taken off the job, no more sin. I can go back to Heaven.”
Krim considered everything that Peter had said. As a demon, naturally, he was trying to find a flaw that he could exploit. Peter was always honest, and that was his weakness. Could Krim somehow exploit that weakness? He couldn’t see an obvious loophole. Was there a way that only Krim would be replaced?
“Okay, let’s do it. What’s our timetable? How do we coordinate?”
“One year. By then, if we do this right, we both should be sent home,” Peter said.
“Okay. One year. We meet back here,” Krim said.
“Done and done,” Peter said.
The angel and demon stood but did not shake on it. They left purgatory as Dorothy Sullivan began part two of her lecture: the female anatomy.
* * *
For a month after Christmas, both angel and demon began to prepare for their journey. There would be little chance that anyone would actually notice they were gone from their posts. After all, this was government work, so a quick sign explaining that they were at lunch wouldn’t seem out of place. On Krim’s notice, he also drew a crude picture of a hand giving the middle finger to give it that true governmental authenticity.
Krim began in Las Vegas, a place so rife with the filth of humanity that he could immerse himself in good deeds. After three weeks Krim had failed to perform a single act of kindness. It occurred to him that he was really just on vacation. Maybe Las Vegas wasn’t such a great idea. In fact, any city was just too much of a temptation. Krim couldn’t even go to the suburbs because the pull of Homeowner Associations and PTAs were just too much. Imagine the sin he could inspire there! Krim decided that rural America is where he would be the most productive. A month later, he left Vegas and set up shop as attorney Adam Joseph in the little city of Council Grove, Kansas.
In his very first case he accidentally sued a cooperative group of small farmers over water rights. Krim had reasoned that a corporation would allow more people access to the water. Instead, they built a dam. The appeals ran all the way through to the federal courthouse in Florida before the small farmers and their lawyers went bankrupt.
This was going to be difficult for Krim. When his bonus check cleared, Krim headed to the local bar. Mindy’s was exactly the type of watering hole you would expect in a small town. On the wall, deer heads stood like sentries over the customers. He drank a local brand of beer that seemed to be brewed with contempt. The music was low and honky-tonk. The lighting gave about as much of an effort as Krim had given in doing good deeds.
“Aren’t you that lawyer that just put those families out of their houses? Bankrupted them?” the bartender asked Krim.
“Accidentally,” said Krim.
“Well, I’m sure they will accidentally forgive you.”
Krim wasn’t in the talking mood. If he did, then he was sure to seduce some poor soul into some sort of abomination equal enough to send them to Hell. There were plenty of lonely cows on the prairie surrounding the town. He needed to do the exact opposite of what his natural instincts told him to do. But getting people to shut-up is difficult. They have this natural ability to just keep on talking and talking and talking. The only way to get them to stop their yammering was to feed their piehole. At that revelation, Krim performed his first good deed.
“Free beers and food!” he told the bartender and anyone else who would listen. “All night!” Krim placed a wad of cash on the bar.
For the next three hours, everyone forgot about Krim’s first big case. They drank and danced to old tunes sung by David Allen Coe. Bored housewives swayed to the music and felt relieved that someone else was doing the cooking. For those few hours, these good people forgot all their worries. They lived in the moment, they laughed, and they rekindled forgotten friendships. One of the small farmers even came over.
“No hard feelings,” Big Dusty said, stuffing his overall pockets with shrimp poppers to take home to the wife.
“No hard feelings,” Krim said.
“My boy was to get the farm when I retired, ya know,” Big Dusty said. “But I suppose that ain’t gonna happen now.”
“Have another drink,” Krim said, calling over the bartender. Big Dusty did, hiccupped, and then puked in the parking lot on the way to his truck.
The next day, Krim learned that Big Dusty had died in a head-on collision with a granary truck owned by the largest corporate farming outfit in the state of Kansas. Krim performed his second good deed. He sued the corporate farming company on the behalf of Big Dusty. The trial dragged on for months, but eventually, they resolved the case. The settlement was enough for Big Dusty’s family to buy back their land and put money away for a rainy day. Krim was getting the hang of this. He even went and hugged an orphan, something he thought he would never do. Of course, he then sued the state for allowing someone unsupervised around a minor. With that money, he convinced the city to open a park in Big Dusty’s honor, complete with water slides and splash zones. For the rest of the year, Krim sued the City of Council Grove for every injury any child had at the park, which wasn’t built up to code and had no slip-proof precautions for wet concrete. Since all of his wins came from insurance companies, Krim was doing good deeds while still screwing someone over. So even if it wasn’t evil, it still felt like evil. He used his share of the winnings to improve the community. Thus, Krim became the very first demon Robin Hood.
In October, near Halloween, Krim began to notice the smell of sulfur at Mindy’s. It was not the normal stink of the place, which was closer to cow droppings mixed with Tic Tacs. It was Hell’s sulfur, and in that smell, Krim knew that he had finally gotten the attention of his bosses. Krim pretended not to notice but continued his good deeds. And as Christmas rolled around, he wondered how Peter was getting along.
Peter had his own troubles starting out. Sin was not natural to him and made his stomach turn. Once he left his embassy, he tried to start small. But even when he was bad, he was good. He cussed at an old lady, but it turns out she had Tourette’s Syndrome so she assumed he did too. It made her feel connected to humanity and brightened her day. As an angel who had always read about sin, but never participated, he found it hard to know where to begin. Then he realized that there was a guidebook already. He picked up the Bible and began studying the seven deadly sins.
In the early spring, Peter found himself in Orlando, Florida. At a gas station, he spent all of the first day buying scratch-off tickets. When he won, mostly only a buck, he hollered and made the clerk cash it in on the spot, regardless of who was next in line. He loved that feeling when he won! It would appear that Peter had developed a gambling problem. But addictions never end well. A very large man decided to confront Peter. The angel slugged the large man in overalls right in the jaw. The man was known as Big Dusty and was in town awaiting an appeal from a court case. And just like that, Peter was able to complete the sins of Greed and Wrath.
Peter left Orlando and stopped in Tupelo, Mississippi. He spent a solid month binge-watching The Office and porn. Gluttony, Sloth, and Lust were now checked off the list. As it turns out, sinning was easy and fun. He drove away, intending to head to the Midwest, and then decided to head back to Tupelo to commit some more Gluttony, Sloth, and Lust. Just to be sure he had gotten it right.
By midsummer, Peter arrived in In Oklahoma City. He needed to find a way to commit some minor Envy, and the rust-colored streets of OKC seemed a like a good place to spend some time. He found that gambling soothed him and spent much of his time at an Indian Casino.
Peter walked up to a slot machine and let the fates take him. A month passed by and Peter had hardly moved at all. His winnings went directly back into the machine. When he lost all of his money, he became a lust assistant to long-haul truck drivers. Peter had gotten the hang of Lust and many of his clients called him a “pro.”
At the end of the summer months, Peter began to notice little flairs of lights in places where there should be no light. Behind slot machines, or at the bottom of the thrown dice at the craps table. And the air no longer smelled like cigarettes and desperation. It smelled like hope and cookies. Angels had begun to observe Peter on his bender.
This made Peter angry. None of these angels had managed to check on him over the last ten thousand years while he was running the embassy in Hell. They could have at least rung him up. Sent him a text message or something. But not a fucking word. Instead, they popped in and out of the cosmos “observing.” What a load of shit. Voyeurs, every single one of them. They had no responsibility, whatsoever. Not like Peter, whose shoulders often sagged from the weight of his duty. What he wouldn’t give to have that pressure relieved, to be like these divine beings that watched him.
Peter achieved Envy.
Peter left the casino, traveled Omaha, Nebraska, and spent a good amount of time reading some of Dorothy’s published works. In between the books, he practiced his lying and convinced the local county that they should consider the benefits orphans received as taxable income. But he was now consciously on the lookout for the angels.
Peter continued his road trip, making stops during the fall in both Denver, Colorado, and Council Grove, KS. In Council Grove, he slipped at a splash park and got a settlement offer from some attorney named Adam Joseph. He never even met the man and hadn’t even realized he was part of a lawsuit. But he took the money anyway. Peter wasn’t even injured. Normally, he would have donated to a worthy cause, such as Doctors Without Stethoscopes. Instead, he used it to fund a cocaine bender in Wyoming for Thanksgiving. He was very proud that he had been able to complete so many sins in such a short time.
The lights started following him more closely as Christmas carols began to play on the radio. And they were getting a bit more brazen about it. Peter’s last attempt at Wrath was stopped by an unseen hand, even though the kitten had it coming. Things were getting physical, active interference by the warriors of God. It was time; Peter was about to get pulled.
* * *
Purgatory hadn’t changed much over the last year. Dorothy Sullivan lectured about plot holes and the deep penetration of properly done character traits. When she finished her presentation to the billions of souls, she stepped down from the lectern and approached Peter and Krim in the back of the room.
“Hello,” Dorothy said. “And bless you both.”
Krim recoiled at the blessing. His stomach turned.
“She’s going to give you absolution? Is she even a priest?” Krim asked.
“Close enough, for my purposes,” Peter answered.
Krim coughed. He had developed a nagging throat tickle in Council Grove. His hair had also started falling out in chunks, and he had shrunk two inches. Krim refused to look in the mirror anymore, disgusted by what he had seen but even more by what he felt. He actually began enjoying his good deeds. On the way here, he helped change the tire of some poor lady with Tourette’s.
“This shouldn’t take long, Dorothy. If you are still willing,” Peter said.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Dorothy asked.
“Yes,” Peter said.
Dorothy turned her eyes to Krim, judged him. “Are you sure this is what you both want?”
“Yeah, yeah. Get on with it, and then you can get back to your descriptions of thrusting”
Dorothy returned her gaze once again to Peter.
“Please,” Peter said.
“Very well,” Dorothy replied.
Krim had enjoyed doing good, more than he should have over the last year. But at his very core, he was still Krim the Destroyer. He hated everything about the purity of the righteous of arrogant Peter. It made him a smug butthole. Krim had stopped trying in the embassy in Heaven. There was no point. But not Peter. He supplied gift baskets to the damned. Peter wasn’t an emissary for Heaven, he was a fucking missionary. Krim was going to take that smugness and put it right in Peter’s face.
Dorothy sighed deeply and seemed sad. Her face was drawn, more wrinkled than it had been while she was speaking to the souls of purgatory. She held up her hand. Peter knelt.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost…” Dorothy began. Krim moved closer. He wanted this to happen just as Dorothy’s hand came down.
“All of your sins are forgiven.” Dorothy’s hand moved toward Peter’s forehead. This was Krim’s chance, and his gap-toothed smile almost consumed his own face. He rushed at Peter’s back, a celestial knife flickering in the weak fluorescent light.
Peter moved, quicker than he should have been able to. He spun as Krim lunged toward him, and Krim’s blade sank into nothing but a memory. Peter twirled and grabbed the demon by the neck and kicked the back of his knee.
The demon knelt in front of Dorothy as her hand came down upon his head. Smoke wafted up. Krim tried to scream but couldn’t.
“You are forgiven,” Dorothy said.
Krim jerked violently. His skin broke out in a rash. His ear fell off to the floor and landed by Peter’s feet.
“You… You…,” Krim began.
“I know,” Peter said.
“You lied. You lied from the start. How?”
“It was my first sin. It hurt, but it was necessary.”
Krim began to glow, a bright light, a sun being born in the middle of the Hilton in Columbus. Then he disappeared.
“This pains me. Your sacrifice…” Dorothy said.
“I’m sorry, Lord.” Peter was handsome now. The most beautiful sin in creation.
“I can’t take this back. The balance must be maintained. But I hurt for you,” Dorothy said.
“I know,” Peter said. “But you have one of your children back. He knows your touch again, and what goodness feels like. It took a while, but I knew he could get there. Even a little pebble is enough to start an avalanche, isn’t that what you always told us?”
“Yes,” Dorothy said. “It’s why I keep coming back here day after day, looking for just one pebble of hope and recognition. Krim couldn’t see me for what I truly am until the last moment. But he did, so maybe these can as well.”
“And now I can plant that hope in Hell, among the worst. Redemption, Lord, there can always be redemption.”
“Lucifer won’t like it. He’ll fight.”
“Then I’ll start with him.”
A puff of smoke, a shot of flame, and Perfect Peter disappeared. Dorothy went back to the lectern and started the next session. “Subtext, and what is to be seen behind the words,” she began.
Krim screamed in Heaven for a thousand years. He was trapped, not allowed to leave the white city. He spent his days cleaning around Hell’s Embassy. His replacement had shown up, Gothric, but mistook Krim for the enemy. Gothric never heard a word that Krim screamed. Evil has a way of ignoring everything around it. Eventually, Krim had the urge to sing and became even more disfigured as he did. Krim hugged the orphans that passed through Heaven’s gate.
Peter continued his outreach in Hell but made sure he visited Heaven’s embassy. He brought gift baskets. He could leave Hell and try and corrupt the souls on Earth. Lucifer was trying to tempt Peter into going full evil. Peter played along but never left Hell. Instead, he had nightly dinners with the Morningstar where they would hold long debates on the nature of the universe, the nature of God, and why the Almighty enjoyed romance novels so much.
And in those talks, a pebble of hope began to grow.
Shannon Carpenter lives in Kansas City, MO, with his wife, three kids, and one dog that likes to bark at things that are not there. Follow him on twitter @hossmanathome or visit is blog www.Hossmanathome.com for more humorous stories. Represented by Chris Kepner.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “The Emissaries”:
Just when we thought we’d seen nearly all the possible variations on Heaven and Hell stories, author Shannon Carpenter surprised us with this amusing take on human (er, demonic and angelic) nature. It’s a bit touching, with a message in it as well, and the romance novel asides are just plain funny.