Carl Begai

GRIM

An excerpt from a future publication by yours truly. It was going to be a short story, but the things in it have taken on a life of their own…

PROLOGUE

Do me a favour; next time the words I’d sell my soul… cross your mind, don’t say them out loud.

Seriously. Just fucking don’t.

It’s not that I don’t understand the desperation that comes along with wanting to bang that hot piece of ass on the other side of the bar, or needing to own that kick-ass never-in-a-million-years-could-you-afford-it new car, or wanting that no-work no-sweat bazillion dollar payday. Been there, done that. I get it.

And it’s not that I give a damn about you risking an all expense paid trip to Hell, either. Fact is, when you utter those words it’s like a dog whistle for the folks I answer to, and it’s a lot of fucking work doing the follow-up.

I have nothing against hard work, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I like the time off to worry about my own so-called life, which is pretty hard to do when I wake up to an inbox loaded with assignments that have to be taken care of now now now. And, in all honesty, from what I’ve seen it’s not really worth the hassle yanking on that wishbone. Pussy and dick, regardless on your preference, is all the same in the end – no pun intended – and that hotrod is going to end up costing you more that it’s worth. Especially if the damn parts have to be imported. Been there done that, too.

For the record, no, I’m not one of the idiots that bargained his immortal soul away for an otherwise impossible fix. Nope. I ended up with this tour of duty because the guy that had this job before me screwed up large. Huge as in The Biggest Loser massive. Yet, when all was said and done and his head exploded like a watermelon on the receiving end of a hammer, somehow I ended up paying for his mistake. And I’m still paying for it.

I’m what’s known in the circles I travel these days as a Grim. Nifty little title dreamed up by some douche-nozzle in the mail room because he thought it was appropriate given the job description. Which, simply put, is me sending morons like you to the Beelzebub Bed & Breakfast because your lust-crossed eyes are bigger than your metaphorically distended belly.

Guaranteed, within two minutes of someone blabbing his or her mouth off about giving it all up for Just That One Thing, I have a damn message on my Blackberry telling me some pinhead has won the lottery.

In all fairness, I should point out that all variations of “I’d sell my soul for… / I’d give anything to be able to…” are accepted, so don’t bother splitting hairs when you finally meet the Happy Hellions that had me come after you. Any comment about giving or lending or pimping or bartering your soul will get you a one-way trip to Hell courtesy of the Grim. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Just doing my job.

And who are these Lords and Ladies of doom, gloom, fashion faux-pas (plural), and righteous suffering? There are a bunch of ‘em – Lucifer, Thanatos, Yama, Pesta, Eugene, Stan (real name Satan, but he lost a bet; not something he likes publicized), and a sweet little psycho bitch name Penelope – but it’s really any high profile demonic sort that happens to have the shelf space for your spiritual energy, or whatever the heck you wanna call it, that’ll welcome you with open arms. They used to do the whole sign-on-the-dotted-line thing themselves, but when the world started getting uglier a few thousand years ago they embraced the whole idea of outsourcing.

Lucky me.

Actually, you should count yourselves lucky, because I’m one of the nice guys. I shower every day, I’m punctual, I cook a mean jerk chicken, and nine times out of ten I make sure you don’t know what hit you when I finally send you on your way. There are other Grim that don’t share my scruples about having you kicking and screaming on the way out.

Now, those of you paying attention are questioning the high level of bullshit you’re currently wading through, because we all know there’s no such thing as selling one’s soul for a new-and-improved life. Of course not. And the Devil sure as shit isn’t listening in on our coversations. He / she / it doesn’t really exist, anyway. It’s all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret; Pacino didn’t need to rehearse his role for The Devil’s Advocate. Same goes for Elizabeth Hurley in Bedazzled. And if the world is willing to believe in the legends and lore of a supernatural dude that looked like the Unabomber turning water to wine – moronic “my-god-is-better-than-your-god” religious wars and cultural differences notwithstanding – you can sure as fuck bet on Hell being wired into your world tighter than Bret Michaels’ bandanna is to his skull.

Or, put it this way: that song with the lines “He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake” wasn’t originally written for Santa Claus.

Bottom line is they know when you’re serious, they’ll call you on it, and if all goes according to plan… bang, you’re dead. Your physical body is, at any rate. They’ll live up to their part of whatever bargain you hash out, but it’ll be on their terms starting with wiping out the life you were living before you decided to cut corners. Food for thought, eh?

Which brings me to the point of all this…

My job is to find a way into your life, earn your trust, and send you on your way once you’ve been reeled in. Things would be way frickin’ easier if they’d just give me a gun or let me push you into the path of an oncoming bus, but no, for all their wooga wooga divine powers The Superfiends are squeamish about making a mess. They hate drawing attention to themselves. Of course, it’s me puncturing arteries and slitting throats, so they’ve got very little to do with it beyond holding my Get Out Of Jail Free card for ransom. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve enjoyed the before and after view of my dinner on a given night.

You’d think musicians and actors would be the most common clients / victims. Nope. It’s the mid-life crisis guys and image-obsessed women that take up most of my working hours; the whiniest and laziest fuckers you never want to meet, trust me. And teenagers… pfffffff… you’d swear they buy varying shades of stupid off the rack at Hot Topic to match their fucking iPods. It’s those moments, when I’m seriously considering giving Junior his first and last skydiving lesson off the CN Tower, that I beg for some washed-up coked-up screwed-up over-the-hill glam rock reject to put in a call for a better tomorrow.

So yeah, it’s a grim job indeed. But, nine more kills and I’m done. Then it’s back to real life.

Copyright © Carl Begai – 2011
Copyright © Carl Begai – 2012

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Okay. I’ve been threatening to do this for a while, and here we go. An excerpt from the actual meat and potatoes of the book. About four chapters in, which means you won’t get any of what’s going on… yet. Call it a test for your brain to see if it’s actually something you’d buy into when the time comes.

With regards to the rather stilted format, it isn’t how the published final product will be presented. WordPress doesn’t allow for easily formatted paragraphs, so for the sake of clarity I’ve spaced the lines out as such.

Enjoy, eh.

RUMTY DUMPTY

I was a third of the way through a bottle of Diplomático when Lou showed up. He just walked into the pub as if stopping by for a casual mid-day drink even though it was after 3:00am and the doors were locked. But that was Lou for you; never met a door he couldn’t breeze through no matter if it was locked, bolted, sealed with industrial crazy glue and/or being guarded by fricking Godzilla.

“Good evening, Jason,” he said as he slid into the room. “But I guess it’s actually ‘good morning’ at this point.”

“S’nothing good about it.” I swallowed the last of the rum in my glass and poured another, giving the table a pretty decent splash in the process. Lou gave me a puckermouth glance of disapproval but I pretended not to notice. Truth is I really didn’t give a damn.

Denner had been right; liquid gold going down.

I didn’t remember the first drink at all. I had a foggy recollection of coming in through the back after 2:00am knowing that the Court would be locked up and everyone would be gone if they knew what was good for them. My nerves were so frazzled it was the first and only time I didn’t have a mental hiccup thinking about the fact I’d been killed in the exact same spot where I usually parked.

I said a silent thank you to whoever had the forethought to build a full bathroom onto the office. Stripping off my bloody clothes and stuffing them into a garbage bag yanked from the kitchen, I must have stood in the scalding hot shower for a solid 15 minutes. It wasn’t one of those maniac scrubbing sessions where I was freaking out over the amount of blood covering me; more like I was trying to wash the image of the dog out of my head.

It had been ages since I’d drawn blood, never mind getting covered in it. I preferred a clean kill, which took concentration and willpower to pull off. It was second nature to me at that point, which definitely hadn’t been the case in the beginning. Seems everyone neglected to mention the nifty little No Mess feature of the knife I was waving around.

Of course, even though the blade could stab and carve flesh without leaving a mark it did visible and permanent damage to clothes and inanimate objects. It’s fair to say that, in my early Grim days, I was the culprit behind more than a few wildly screwed up autopsies. It took me a while to clue into the fact that it’s hard to pass off a convincing heart attack victim if the person’s shirt shows evidence of an entry wound.

Dried off and changed, garbage triple-bagged and tossed in the dumpster, I decided the best way to get my head together was by rinsing my brain with alcohol. Hence the Venezuelan Happy Juice. It wasn’t until I was through my second glass – or was it the fourth? – that I realized I was sitting at “our” table. The table the boys and I usually snagged the night Fate decided things just weren’t exciting enough in my average yet satisfying little life.

“What th’fuck is wrong with people?” I asked, fixing Lou with something that was supposed to be a scowl. My guess was the booze had probably turned it into a something more along the lines of a Cabbage Patch Kid trying to hold in a fart.

He shook his head and sighed. “I wish I had an answer for you.”

“It was a dog, Lou. They killed a dog. Some blue-haired old woman’s pet, some snot-nosed kid’s best friend in the whole goddamn world… and for what? To pay for a conference call with Stan? What the fuck is that all about?”

I was pissed. Ugly rip-your-heart-out-and-feed-it-to-you rage. I wanted to wing the rum bottle across the bar, but whatever passed for common sense floating around in my pickled noggin pointed out that it’d be an expensive tantrum. I let go of the bottle and wrapped both hands around my glass. It’d cause a hell of a lot less damage if it suddenly went airborne.

“So what happens now?” I asked.

Lou remained standing rather than grabbing a seat at the table. He leaned back against the bar and shoved his hands into his pockets.

“Well, last I heard Eugene was doing the clean-up. He said something about making it look like a murder suicide in one of those animals’ basements. Probably caused by an X-Box disagreement or someone taking the last piece of Chinese take-out knowing him. Stan hates all the negative publicity that crops up when people start going on about devil worship and that ritual sacrifice nonsense…”

“No,” I said, cutting him off. “What happens t’me now?”

He frowned, not getting it. “I don’t follow you.”

“I offed three assholes that I wouldn’ have had anything to do with if I hann’t been in that fuckin’ neighbourhood. Isn’t that against one of the frickin’ rules yer always going on about?”

And really, I guess that was the other reason I was trying to drown my liver. The image of the born and bred Jason Rathburn getting blown to pixie dust was as vivid in my mind then as it was the night it happened. It still is. Somewhere in my stupor a part of me wondered if I’d see it coming and how much it would hurt.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about.” Lou smiled, a genuine Take it easy grin. “Consider those three a hat-trick towards your quota. The first one, he was out of his mind and would have ended up on a Grim’s to-do list at some point, maybe even yours. Probably yours. The second, it seems he had a thing for kiddie porn and questionable relations with his older sister. He wasn’t all there either.” He tapped his left temple. “As for the third one, he was the spineless follower-type that turned on a God complex every time he was online. Had a hard-on for cyber bullying, that one. Penny is going to love him.”

“Penny?”

“Penelope. You know, tits out to here, ass that won’t quit. Makes Angelina Jolie look like Robin Williams and Mrs. Doubtfire had a child?”

I nodded and decided it wasn’t something you did while smashed on expensive rum. I did remember Penelope, though. Only met her once before and damn, her backside was indeed spectacular.

It still is.

“I thought Stan was going to piss himself with glee when he found out what you’d done,” Lou added. “He laughed his ass off for half an hour.”

I had the sudden urge to punch Lou in the face. The guy actually used the word “glee” in a sentence. Out loud.

“What about the dog?” I asked instead.

“Doggie heaven.”

“Funny. You’re a fucking riot, Lou.”

“I’m serious.” And he was.

“There’s a doggie…” Argh. “There’s a heaven f’r dogs?”

“Sure. If you want I’ll take you there.”

For a split second I actually considered it. Just an eyeblink. Then the remaining rational part of my brain – however small at the time – horse-kicked me back to reality. “No, thanks. I’m having ‘nough trouble dealing with all the supernatural bullshit already on my plate.” I took another swig figuring it would ground me, then laid my hands flat on the table to steady myself.

“You should go easy on that stuff,” Lou suggested. “Booze turned the original Jason into a mess, and we both know how that ended. I’d hate to see you suffer his fate. I really would. Why don’t you finish that up and I’ll take you home?”

Even in my Rumty Dumpty state I knew it wasn’t the booze that had messed Jason One up. Being a Grim is what did it to him; alcohol is what kept him from losing his shit completely. At least it did before he made the move from casual to crazed drinking.

I did as Lou suggested and finished my drink in one swallow, bracing myself just moment too late for the wave of intoxication that rattled my skull. Safe bet I’ll have to shave my tongue in the morning.

“Naaah. I’m on early tomorrow… today. I’m gonna crash here.” I let out a massive belch, then yawned, the poster boy for poise and elegance. “In fact, if y’swing by around 10:30 to make sure I’m conscious I’ll whip up breakfast for ya… including the best ancho jam this side of the Easy Rider Café.”

Lou left a short time later, but not before steering me in the direction of my office and the couch, where I collapsed mumble-singing a song about drunken sailors and the things they do early in the morning.

Copyright © Carl Begai – 2012
Copyright © Carl Begai – 2013

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