Stacy & the AngelbyHandley_Page©
The ways of the Official are many, varied, and often formal. That their methods and phrases - often arcane or even quaint to the modern ear - are accepted goes without saying. In dealing with an 'Official' you have to listen very carefully; often to long sentences and unfamiliar words that almost borders on 'legalese' or 'jargon'.
We seem to live in a world where 'ticking the box' and recording target achievements seems more important than doing the actual job. This story is what might happen when there is the 'ultimate personnel cock-up' in Heavenly Administration.
But because I am English, this little story and the phraseology might seem strange to the American ear. I apologise for any confusion, but I doubt it would sound the same if I translated it into a suitable American dialect.
So I hope you enjoy this word of fiction; I had fun writing it.
It all happened very quickly. There he was, smartly dressed and if not smelling of roses, of good soap and matching talc. Stacy had been looking forward to a weekend of debauchery and mind-blowing sex with a willing participant in a discreet country hotel. Instead, he found himself facing a figure of no real defined shape. It was more vertical than horizontal, and misty, rather like thick fog.
"I'm the duty clerk and my name is Jeremiah," said the figure. "I'm an angel, junior grade."
Stacy looked carefully, but could detect no angelic wings nor hear the sound of a harp playing. The Choir Invisible was similarly noticeable by its silence.
"I have a few questions to ask you," said Jeremiah, picking up his clipboard. "It's part of our new Quality Control protocol, whatever that is: They never tell us junior staff anything―"
Stacy peered into the fog. "Eh?" he said. "Excuse me, but I do not know what you are on about," he said firmly. "I was driving along in my car and suddenly I'm here, wherever 'here' is."
"You are in Heaven. To be specific: Heavenly Reception: Department T68, Basic Life forms."
There was a pause. "What do you mean – drive a - what did you call it – a car?"
There was a short period of silence while Stacy digested this information.
"OK. Heaven." He paused, thought and went on: "Therefore, I seem to have died for some reason, but I'll deal with that shortly. And yes, I was driving a car. It's a device for transporting humans from one place to another. It does not require any external force other than some kind of fuel." Then he grasped the situation and emphasised:
"And I am not a basic life form."
"Look, there's no need to take that tone with me. And how can a cell - what did you call it - drive a . . . car?"
"Erm . . . cell?" said Stacy.
"Yes, a cell. That's what you were before you came here to Reception. It says so on your form." He sounded slightly bored with the whole thing already.
"Stand over there against that panel, please."
"What is that?" Stacy was getting confused as well as frustrated; he pointed at the panel.
"It's the Soul Searcher."
"Look," said Jeremiah, "as I understand it, on Earth they have machines to look at your organs. Here we have ones that look at your soul. Now, get over to that panel, please."
By some means he did not understand, Stacy found himself standing in front of the pale fog-coloured panel. He was not aware of any conscious effort to do so.
He straightened up and spoke. "Sorry, chief, but someone has blundered. I am, or was, a human male in the prime of life, happy and, if not rich, reasonably comfortable. I had a good job, better prospects, good friends, and I enjoyed life. I was on my way to see my lady friend and we were going to spend a romantic weekend together. Suddenly it all stops and now you think I was a simple cell? You'd be better having a word with whoever gave you that book. To put it bluntly, it's wrong."
"It is NOT wrong," said Jeremiah in a voice which had a very frosty tone. "We do not make that kind of mistake round here. We─"
"You did this time, mate. May I please have a look at that book?"
There was a silence as Jeremiah handed the tome to Stacy. On the front was inscribed a picture of something that resembled an amoeba and what looked like the word 'Stacy' in a very strange script. The Soul Searcher machine bleeped. Jeremiah took the image from a slot and held it up, looked towards Stacy, and then back to the image. It did not look like the image on the book cover, but it did look a bit like Stacy.
"That's not an identity image, is it?" asked Stacy.
"Of course," said a very reluctant Jeremiah.
"What would be the image for a human male in the prime of life?"
"I'm not exactly sure since I'm not fully trained to do humans. I'm still on simple life forms."
"Well, I suggest you contact whoever you report to as a senior and get him or her or - it to correct this mistake, sharpish," said Stacy.
"Are you sure you are what they call a 'Human'?"
"Yes." Stacy's fuse was definitely getting shorter at this point.
He briefly reflected that this Angel, junior grade, was not very good at this work.
He continued: "It does say somewhere Adam was created in His own image by His own hand, right?"
Come to think of it, 'not very good at this work' was a good example of understatement; in fact, "bloody useless" on current performance fit very well. Stacy waited for the reply.
Jeremiah looked carefully at Stacy, at the image and at the book several times.
"You seem to have a valid claim to be human."
Jeremiah started to think. An assignment to the Border Agency and Arrivals was considered an easy option and cases like this didn't appear every day.' 'This is, therefore, not a good day'. The thought did not give him any comfort although he briefly wondered if it might be part of the 'Rolling Appraisal' system now in vogue.
Jeremiah glanced at the desk. The idea of putting this problem case in the tray marked 'Pending' gave him a peculiar, queasy, feeling where his ulcer would have been had he possessed the necessary physical attributes. Higher Ups had a way of asking very pertinent, not to say pointed, questions if his department missed their targets.
"I'm not authorised—"
"Well, find someone who is." Stacy's voice rose with each word.
"They are all rather busy at present."
"Not for too long, I trust? And have I to lurk round here for an indeterminate length of time while whatever it is happens so we can then decide what to do?" One could almost hear the acid in Stacy's voice. Jeremiah ignored it.
"Well, if one of the Very Seniors is taking the meeting, it could be a while. We junior grades do not get to attend those sessions except when He decides it."
"Define a while" said Stacy.
"Well, it is difficult to equate our time with that on Earth but, at a rough guess, it could work out to about sixty or seventy years, maybe less, maybe more."
"But that IS a man's lifespan; give or take tea breaks, coffee breaks, lunch, public and statutory holidays."
"Is it?" asked Jeremiah. "They don't tell us anything round here; just do the course and off to the nearest vacant desk."
"Yes, it is. But tell me please, just where is one supposed to twiddle the human thumbs while the celestial administration has a collective think and discussion about it at a meeting of the next working party?"
"Oh, that's easy. You go back to Earth." said Jeremiah.
If Jeremiah possessed a face to look at, it would have been an uncomprehending innocent, blank. At least, that's the impression that Stacy got from the voice.
"There would, of course, be no memory of previous experience, but just a normal life," he added.
"So, if I get to be in the Waiting Room, I do not go back as I was?"
"No," said Jeremiah. "It does something nasty to the flow or something, whatever that may mean."
"Now look, you screwed my life up, you can darn well put me back where I was, without serious injury or fuss. And," He added, with considerable emphasis, "you can compensate me for the inconvenience. Return me whence I came, please, and not a bit of random metempsychosis."
"I do not have the authority to do that."
The angel pointed to a notice that Stacy had not noticed earlier.
"Our staff have the right to work without fear, intimidation or harassment which will not be tolerated."
"Well, get someone who can," said Stacy firmly. "There must be a Duty something-or-other somewhere, even if he is on his tea break."
He looked again at the sign and pondered its manifest errors, turned back and glared at the figure in front of him.
"I'll get my Supervisor."
"Not doing very much supervising so far, is he?" Stacy asked waspishly.
Jeremiah mumbled and some sort of desk-like structure materialised in front of him.
It did not seem too long to Stacy before a second fog-like figure was in sight whom Jeremiah introduced as Issidore. He looked first at the sheaf of papers that Jeremiah stuffed into his hands. Then he looked carefully at the image, back at Stacy and then nodded.
"That's human. Name?" he said.
"My name is Stacy Smith, named by my mother, who was a big fan of Stacy Keach the actor and my father who worked for a department called 'Special Services.'"
The red stamp that said 'urgent' in big letters worried Issidore. He tried to remember the last time he had seen a similar sheaf of papers. Cases of this type did not land on his desk very often. A Soul arriving at the pearly gates with the wrong paperwork was practically unheard of.
"It works like this," he said to Jeremiah. "They get born down there. The local maternity home or hospital usually gives them a Birth Certificate or something. Now, they also get an expiry date; it's like "use within a few days of opening" on foodstuffs. We don't tell them what it is because there's only the Boss who actually knows the details.
"After they have their three score and ten like it says in the manual— it's only an average but generally holds good— they arrive sometime at the gates and the paperwork is all nice and simple."
He peered at the paperwork and shook his head: "But the wrong paperwork; arriving early? Hmmm."
A bookshelf appeared and he reached for a volume and flicked through it.
"I don't even think it's covered in the Regulations!" he mumbled in a shocked voice.
"I couldn't find it in my Manual, either," said Jeremiah earnestly.
They began talking to each other, completely ignoring Stacy. There appeared in front of the foggy figure what looked like a large telephone directory.
Issidore then spoke to Stacy. "Have you paid your Tithes and made Offerings?"
Stacy took a deep celestial breath. "What are you on about?"
Issidore felt quite pleased with himself as he remembered a seldom invoked clause. "It clearly says here. One tenth of everything you have belongs to The Boss.
It's quite clear: One part in every ten. It's actually never been reviewed. Don't quote me on this but I'm surprised that the finance commission missed that one. It's fairly easy. Whatever you get, you have to give back one tenth part. Now that's the Tithe. It's like a minimum monthly payment or Income Tax. The other bit is what we call the Offering.
"After you pay the Tithe, whatever you have left is yours. The Offering comes out of that and is at your discretion. Once we get your contributions, we can work out your levels of blessings. Don't worry about it; everything gets properly recorded and audited."
He turned to Jeremiah: "Only Higher executive Angels get to be auditors. That sort of vacancy doesn't get advertised very often. There's a right scramble when one is advertised."
He paused and turned back to Stacy.
"Anyway, where was I? Yes, that's it; Tithes and Offerings. You have made your payments I hope. Have you got any official receipts with you by any chance, or your pass book?"
Stacy was feeling a bit bemused by all the talk about Tithes and Offerings.
"You make it sound like some sort of divine insurance policy or even Income Tax. We are not here to discuss my credit card statement or that stereo system I purchased on it last month. And in what is a cell supposed to carry this documentation? Come to think of it, how can a cell make Tithes & Offerings?"
Issidore blithely ignored this question and carried on, rather like an over-trained salesman: "Now, now, no need to get excited. I know what you're going to say: Something like 'it's not worth the effort' or 'no one actually bothers about that these days'. Everyone seems to say the same. There was a move a few centuries ago to actually repeal that bit but it got voted out when it came to the crunch, so it's still valid. I can show you the wording if you like."
Jeremiah, remembering his training course, picked up the conversation.
"Everyone says the same all the time but it's quite easy. The basic tithe gives you an introductory level of blessing. Now I know it's not a lot and I'd probably agree with you but that's not the point. It's a bit like a flat fee or a subscription. I think humans do the same things with what do you call them - Magazines? Once you have paid the tithe you build up your blessings from the offerings. That's when the fun really starts for you."
"Sounds like one of those old endowment mortgages of a few years back" said Stacy, adding: "Many of those were mis-sold . . ."
He was about to enquire about a Cell having pockets for receipts, when Issidore came in with a new one.
"Are you guilty of fornication?"
The question was rather unexpected and Stacy had to think of a suitable answer.
"Well," he said, "if you mean sex outside a permanent and blessed union, yes, I suppose I am, but we do not have a general prohibition on it where I come from. But if you'd got me about 48 hours later the answer would most definitely have been Yes."
Issidore looked puzzled and said: "Oh."
He took the book from Jeremiah and flicked a few pages: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a Pagan organisation?" He said.
"If you mean anti-Christian, the answer is no," said Stacy, "but I cannot, in all honesty, say I was particularly pro-Christian either. It's not something I thought much about," he added.
"For the purposes of worship, the answer is no. However, there are some things which are widely regarded as artistic or attractive and demonstrate the maker's superior skill in some way. In that case the answer might be regarded as - yes."
"Have you committed murder?"
"Have you stolen anything?"
"Well," said Stacy, "that's not so easy to answer. If you mean breaking into someone's house and deliberately taking some of their property, the answer is no. But I have taken the odd bit of office stuff on occasion."
"Not that I know of. After all, if she is not wearing her wedding ring, I do not know her true marital status. I may have been fooled once or twice, but I don't think so."
"Have you ever coveted your neighbour's wife, servants or property?"
"No," said Stacy. "nor his ox nor his ass. Can we get on with getting me back now, please? I want to go back to where I was if you don't mind, without let or hindrance. A passing memory would be acceptable, but nothing else. OK?"
Patience was not Stacy's strong suit and what little he had was wearing very thin.
Issidore looked even more puzzled. "Oh: Well," he mumbled, "it is not as easy as that. It would require someone far more senior that I."
"Yes." Stacy's fuse was definitely getting even shorter at this point. "And you are going to get him/her or it right now: You are, aren't you?
"Yes, well, er r r, he's probably still at the Meeting, you see." Issidore spoke quietly.
"Well GET HIM OUT," roared Stacy.
There was a soft "plop" sound when Issidore vanished.
* * *
Issidore approached with some caution. The executive angel bore the name "Doris." She wasn't over-keen on the name, but she was stuck with it. She was in charge of Higher Administration, a department she governed with considerable skill. It was her job to ensure the orderliness of the Great Plan in terms of its execution; or at least, her small part in it. Despite being an executive angel, she was not known to suffer fools gladly. A nameplate on her desk confirmed her name. She was the only one with such a nameplate. She gave the impression that she'd prefer work of a more important nature than waste time with trivia.
In life, she'd been in charge of a religious house and had run it very well. During her term as Mother Superior, the house had gained new lands and novices, was on a much more sound financial footing with a good reputation, and had a good crop of nuns who ministered cheerfully to the locality.
If Issidore could have taken a long, deep breath, he would have done so, but he felt he was on firm administrative ground. "Your Worthiness," he said respectfully, since being polite was always a good idea. "We have a small problem in T68 upon which we'd value your opinion."
Archangel Doris looked up from her desk and examined the angelic spectre in front of her.
He handed the paperwork to the worthy Doris.
"It would appear that we've had one too early, as it were. There seems to be a mix up between what's on the usual form and what actually turned up. It's human, and he's not happy. According to the form, he's supposed to be a single cell."
Doris carefully put aside her papers and gave the bundle from Issidore a brief glimpse.
"Impossible," she muttered.
Then she had a really good look. If she'd possessed a physical body to warm, it would have done. Here was a challenge worthy of her mettle. She looked at Issidore and a faint smile creased her features.
"Come back in a little while," she said, settling back with her copy of the Manual and the papers. "There's definitely something wrong here."
* * *
In what seemed like an instant he was back. Jeremiah & Issidore turned to have a more private conversation unaware that Stacy could hear them.
"The executive angel says it's wrong, so you are to send Stacy back for a temporary stay on earth."
Jeremiah was about to protest, reminding Issidore that the form arrives automatically, not through his action
"I heard that," Said Stacy, interrupting the junior grade Angel. "Please will you define temporary. After all, as the old hymn has it, 'a thousand ages in His sight are like an evening gone'. I don't particularly welcome the idea of being hoiked back here in the middle of something important or pleasant. After all, there's a tolerance limit to coitus interruptus or gazing at some important natural feature.
"If I snuff it whilst in the arms of my lover, it is no fun for her being stuck with my body, is it. Thank you, but I would much rather return to where I left."
There was a period of thoughtful silence. Stacy looked at the angels.
"Don't you have some sort of panic button or other urgent signal you can use? A telephone, maybe flags, lamps, pigeons or whatever you use to signal a problem?"
"We don't often get what you might call a problem. I think there is an emergency signal but no one at my level has ever used it. I'll have to consult the Manual."
Jeremiah said as he turned the pages disconsolately.
"Don't you guys have machines for this sort of thing?" wondered Stacy.
"We did, but, frankly, they were more trouble than they were worth," explained Issidore. "They kept getting infected by demons from the outer circle."
"So your security is not, shall we say, top line?"
"Oh," said Issidore, "It is; the higher up you get. They like us to learn the hard way, as it were."
And with that, he vanished.
"Not as hard as it is going to get in this case," said Stacy as he turned back.