The Bill Collector

by Cornelius Hampton

"Come on, you can't be late again. I made a real nice dinner for you", Susan complained. "I know dear, but I just couldn't get away", Steve said. "Well, how long are you going to be?" "I'm not sure, but don't wait up." With that, Steve hung up the phone. Susan returned the handset back to its cradle and sat down with a thump into their chair-n-a-half. Susan was frustrated, but she didn't spend much time stewing in it. "Amy. Go on ahead and put the rest of dinner away. Your father will be late again tonight. I'm gonna go on to bed." Slowly she pulled herself from the chair and trudged up the steps. She suspiciously eyed her wedding ring as she turned it around and around on her finger. Susan walked into her bedroom and slammed the door behind her.

"I gotta go", said Steve as he pulled his pants up. "When will I see you again?" the naked woman in the hotel bed asked. He let the question fade away without any response. "I'll call you tomorrow sometime." He was rambling without even looking at her. She was getting angry at this change of emotion after speaking with his wife, but Steve didn't care, she wasn't his wife. That fact alone made her feelings moot. "Promise you'll call me tomorrow?" "Only death could keep me from it", he quoted the "Color Purple." "The devil would have to come get me." That made her smile, letting him know that their next encounter was a definite. He buttoned the last button of his shirt and put his tie back on. Searching his pant pockets for his wedding ring, he found it lying on the floor. Flashes of relief ignited in his mind. He couldn't go home without his wedding ring on.

Steve pulled into his driveway and quickly noticed that all the light in the house where out. "Good, everyone is asleep," he said to himself as he walked through the side door accessing the kitchen. He found it strange that there were no lights on at all, the T.V. screen was pitch black, and the alarm clock was unplugged. Not even the digital timer on the microwave flashed. Steve knowingly but still cautiously walked to his bedroom. He hoped his wife wasn't awake, and when he crept through the door, he saw that she wasn't. Steve long ago made it a habit of taking a shower after work. Therefore, he felt there shouldn't be anything suspicious about this one.

After his shower, he slipped into bed unnoticed, which was something else he thought strange. Susan normally would have at least stirred when he got into bed, but now it seemed as if she was dead to the world. Her chest had a steady rise and fall, and he could hear her rhythmic breaths. Other than that, she never moved. Steve lay down, closed his eyes, and was fast asleep. As soon as unconsciousness began to take him, he heard something down stairs. "Did you hear something, Susan?" She never even moved, let alone answer his question. He ignored it, for the time being, and lay back down. Figuring it was just the house settling. However, the noise came again, but louder. Steve popped out of bed. Fear causing adrenaline to race through his veins. "Susan!" She didn't move. He frowned at her, disappointed at how deeply she was sleeping, then quietly he tip toed down stairs. Turning the corner into his lavish kitchen again, he sees that the living room television was on now. Then out the corner of his eye, he notices someone sitting in his recliner. Steve eased around the bend to get a better look, grabbing the baseball bat his son had left lying against the kitchen wall. "Hello Steve. How's it going," said his intruder.

"Who the hell are you?"

"That's not important right now."

"What are you doing in my house?"

"You'll learn that soon enough."

"You had better left before I call the police."

"Shut up Steve, and sit down. Your phone doesn't work."

"What do you mean my..."

"SHUT UP STEVE, AND SIT DOWN!" The scream vibrated through Steve's chest, and made him curl up with pain.

"How do you know me?" Steve asked.

"We've never met, but I've been watching you. As for being in your house, well."

"Well what?"

"You have a debt to pay, Steve. I'm here to collect."

"Excuse me."

"First day with your ears, Steve, or have you just forgot how to use them?"

A horrid smile creased his face showing Steve that his situation was far worse than he had first thought. He shivered at the sight of his intruders yellow K-9 teeth. Moreover, his hellish grin was much too wide for any human face. An eerie glow emanated from his pupils. His chest neither rose nor fell, but a thick mist bellowed from his nose and mouth as if he was sitting in a freezer. This air was much colder than where he had come from. The realization of what this man was escaped Steve, but he knew something was different about him.

"Look boss..."

"Ooohh. So I'm your Boss now?"

"No, no. that's not what I meant."

"Then what do you mean, Steve?"

"What do I owe? I don't remember making any deals with you."

"Fool. The deal wasn't with me. It was with your FATHER, you're Holy Host."

"GOD. I never made any deals with GOD."

"Is that so? Well, let's take a look."

He never took his eyes off Steve as he brought his left hand up to his face. Still locked in a death stare the intruder blew into his palm, and out of the mist a T.V. remote appeared. He pointed it toward the television and pressed a button. The screen immediately changed, and Steve was looking at himself and his wife at their wedding 10 years ago. Like everything else he was experiencing at that very moment, this to was a surprise, because he knew for a fact that there were no camera at his wedding. To call his wedding small, would have been an understatement, it was microscopic. There were only two guests, not counting the priest. "Now, what was that you said earlier? You ain't made no deals wit GOD. Was that it?" said the intruder with his inhumanly wide sarcastic grin. "Seems to me you made quite a few deals with Him."

"O.k. look...I ...I can...I can make this thing right. Let me give you something else."

"What makes you think I would want something else?"

"Everybody has a price."

"Yes, everybody does have a price, and my price is your soul, Steve."

"What! My soul, but I'm not dead."

"Oh, that's just a small technicality. I'ma fix that latter."

"Please, I'm begging you, give me some more time. A week. One week is all I need."

"What, you plan to perform a miracle in a week?"

"No, just give me a week."

"You plan on changing that which can't be changed, Steve"

"One week, please."

"Look man, what you're asking is stupid. There is nothing you can do in a week, month, or even a year. Furthermore, I don't do rain checks or debts. Pay me."

"There has to be som..."

"PAY ME, STEVE! I have nothing to do with your disobedience. You decided not to listen to your maker, not me. "

"I listened. I swear I listened. I went to church. I did everything that was asked of me."

"Is that so? Because you know I can take a look and see."

"Go ahead, look. I know I've done well."

"Well now I can see what your problem was. You're crazy. An being that you're the crazy one, let me separate fact from fiction for us both." The remote reappeared; he aimed it at the television with a lazy smirk on his face.

"Eeww, now look at this, Steve. Isn't that you? When was this, last year at the Christmas party? You're a nasty man, Steve. However, I will say you have taste. She's a nice little specimen. She looks nothing like your wife though. Susan's hot." He sat the remote control back down, and glared Steve's way. "Question. Did you know your Father was watching, and if so, did you think you'd get away with that?"

"I confessed to that..."

"No, you were caught. There's a difference."

"But I still fessed up."

"True. True. However, the very next year you did it again. Did you not? Was it fun, Steve? Was it worth it?"

"No. No. I'm sorry!"

"We already know that, Steve. You've been nothing but a disease to your wife and a stumbling stone to your children. Oh, this is a good one! Look here. Remember this? The month after that first Christmas party when you and your little friend were almost caught in the parking garage. You purposely left Paul's business card in the front seat of her car so that no one would suspect you. However, three days later, your little friend's husband killed Paul. Isn't that a freakish turn of events? Dissention at its highest."

"But I went to church nearly every Sunday. I learned of his rules."

"And what good did it do you?" asked the intruder.

"He forgave my sins. He promised."

"He kept it also. However, you went and committed the same offense again. Didn't you?"

"No, no. I mean yes I did, but I'm sorry."

"Yeah, most are, but still you're lying."

"No I'm not. I promise you I'm telling the truth!"

"At this moment you're incapable of being sorry, because you're Father has hardened your heart. You've felt nothing for anyone but yourself, and now that you're in immortal trouble your incapable of telling the truth. So please, stop."

"Please, please, give me another chance. I'll be good."

"See, that's what I'm talking about, 'I'll be good' you say. If you had really known the truth, you would have never said that. Only your Father is good, remember."

"Ok, uuhh, what is it you want?"

"Steve, Steve, I've already told you that one, and I'm not in the habit of repeating myself."

"Look just..."

"NO MORE. GIVE IT UP, NOW."

His voice exploded in anger. The heavy tone that bellowed from his soul seemed to be filled with centuries of horrific experiences. His weighty words plummeted to the floor, once they left his mouth, and steam rolled Steve.

"What am I thinking? I don't owe you any explanations, and I really don't know why I'm even having this conversation. Nevertheless, I'll give you a chance. If and only if you promise to come with me, without any further arguments, if you fail"

"Thank you! Thank you! That's all I ask."

"Alright, answer these two questions. If you answer yes twice, I'll give you more time. However, if there is a "no" involved, you'll come with me. Agreed?"

"Agreed."

"Ok, here you go. Should your Father forgive you because you pray and act nice?"

"Yes" Steve responded with a smile.

"And did you forgive your wife for doing once what you did twice?"

"Ye..." Steve's smile quickly faded.

"Just as I thought. Let's go Steve."

The light in the room began to flutter. Steve looked at the television as the shining images of him and Susan began to fade. The television tube was losing is light, and as that light darkened the image of Steve was changing. What he saw just before the T.V. went black horrified him more than any thing else. Standing at the wedding chapel with his arms around his new wife was Steve, or something like him. An arm, burned through to the bone, was draped around Susan's waist. Half a face glowed with a huge smile that somewhat resembled Steve. The lower right half of his face was nothing but a charred skull, half smile, and half bone. His midsection was wide open and smoking, and some kind of creature was rummaging through his intestine. "OOhh, my GOD. Was that me?"

"Not at the moment, but it will be in about ten minutes."

"Where are you taking me?" he already knew the answer to that, but he asked anyway."

"I haven't informed you of that, yet? My bad. Your due in hell at 0230 hours."

"What?"

"Listen closely. Today is the day that your life inside death will begin. You will learn what true darkness is. You will learn what the' cosmic stressor is, the terrifying prospect of you being truly void of HIS presence. That's the worst kind of pain, if you ask me, but you'll have of opportunities to judge for yourself. Ready to go?"

Finally, every bulb in the house burned out. Faint screams of agony reached out for Steve to hear. The screams grew louder with each passing second. Where they were coming he didn't know, but he soon found out. Smoke began to seep from a little hole in the living room floor. The smoke grew thicker as the hole continued to expand. Tiny flames licked at the wooden floor, but no burn marks were left. The screams kept getting louder, until they were too much for Steve to bear. He bolted for the front door. "No need to rush. Hell's not going anywhere."

Steve was moving so fast that he grabbed the doorknob and flung the door open before his nerve ending could tell his brain that the knob was scorching hot. He left a few layers of skin behind. His brain finally received the message, but the pain was minute. His nerve endings were gone, burned to a crisp. What awaited him on the other side of the door was something he never expected, but should have guessed. As soon as Steve flung the door open a lake of fire roared in his wake. The heat was so immense that he could smell the hair on his face being singed. Millions of souls were seen being tormented be the liquid flames, whaling and flailing about like beached fish unable to die and will never return to the water. Steve was now horrified beyond reason. He was froze in his fear when he heard the intruder say, "Be easy, Steve. Relax and try to get use to this place."

"Who are you?" Steve asked in a shaking voice."

"You can call me the Bill Collector." And he shoved him by his face into the flames.

Susan bolted upright with a violent jerk, pushing her plush comforter away. The Sun was shining in her eyes making her pupils throb. Sweat poured from her face, and her gown was soaking wet. She turns to wake Steve from his slumber and to tell him about the nightmare she had of him and a monster called the Bill Collector. She puts her hand on his shoulder, but quickly snatches it away. "Steve?" she called out his name. It wasn't long before she realized he was dead. Susan then wondered if her dream was real, but she knew the truth.

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