He began to regain consciousness gradually becoming aware of the dull throbbing in his ankle and the searing agony in his neck. It was several moments later before he could open his eyes and take begin taking stock of his surroundings. He was on his back staring up into an impossibly bright light that forced his eyes shut. Trying to raise an arm to shield them from the glare he found it would not respond. It merely continued to lay limply by his side. Alarmed, he checked the rest of his body and it too was unresponsive.
“Hello?” he called out. His voice was low and it creaked with dryness in his throat and a tinge of panic. He could not remember the last time he’d had anything to drink or how’d he come to be such a strange room unable to move. His last clear memory was of being trapped inside a burning building surrounded those who wished him dead.
“Hello John.” The reply seemed to come from everywhere at once, though from his prone position John couldn’t see who had spoken. The voice was musical and resonant and it was nearly impossible to tell if it belonged to a man or woman.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?”
“There is little that remains hidden from me for long John.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense. What is your name?”
“I have been known by many names in my time on this earth. In Greece I was known as Hades. In Egypt I bore the name Osiris. Your European cousins call me the Reaper. My true name is Azreal and for time eternal I have shepherded the souls of the departed to their final judgment. “
“Wouldn’t that make you an angel?”
“My kind has been called such yes.”
“Then am I…?”
“Dead? Yes. You were trapped in barn while trying to evade justice. When you refused to surrender one of the men who pursued you opened fire. You were paralyzed and died as a result of your injuries.”
Slowly the gaps in John’s memory began to fill in. He remembered the war that torn his country apart, the plot to kill the tyrants responsible. He remembered the flash of gun powder in the darkened balcony; the terror and panic of those too afraid to see the truth. He remembered the broken ankle and the journey southward that left him wounded, trapped, and about to die. He couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry at such irony.
“Justice? What mockery! Everything I did I did in the name of God and my country!”
“John Wilkes Booth, do not attempt to convince me that the sins you have committed are the will of the Father,” Azreal’s disembodied voice became edged with anger. “But I have not come to pass judgment upon you. I merely come to offer you a choice.”
“Choice? What choice do I have? Has my fate not yet been decided?”
“Only the Father has power to decide your final reward. In this instance he wishes to offer you a chance at redemption so that you may be absolved of your Earthly sins.”
“And what does God wish of me in return? Surely there is little I can offer him in my present state.”
“There a number of entities who have taken residence on the Earthly plane. They do not belong there but have taken measures to ensure that they are beyond the Father’s reach to deal with. He wishes for you to return to the mortal realm and deal with them. Your physical body will be fully restored to its condition prior to your death. If you complete this task then the Father shall forgive your sins and you will be given a place of honor among the host of Heaven.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then you shall go to your final reward with your sins unabsolved and you must face whatever judgment befits you.”
Suddenly the scales tipped away from crying and firmly toward laughing. John had been alive long enough know a threat when one was given. He had risked, and in fact lost, his life in an attempt save the country he loved from damnation at the hands of a bold-faced traitor. He had only acted in accordance with what he believed to be right and was now being threatened with damnation of his own as a result.
“Then it seems God has given me little choice. I must accept his terms.”
“Excellent. The Father will be most pleased.”
The harsh light surrounding John began to grow in intensity until he thought he would go blind. The air grew hotter until he began to sweat, causing small beads to form on his forehead. The bullet lodged in his neck prevented him from crawling away or wiping the sweat away. He could only shut his eyes and wait.
It receded nearly as suddenly as it appeared leaving the room with more normal lighting. To John’s surprise the pain in his ankle was gone, leaving only a slight stiffness behind. He found he was able to flex the previously broken joint and even to climb to his feet. His hand drifted to where the soldier’s bullet had pierced his neck. Where he expected to find a wound or even a scar there was nothing to indicate he had ever been injured.
The pain in his ankle was gone, leaving only stiffness behind as he climbed to his feet and began to walk. He placed a hand where the soldier’s bullet had pierced his neck, expecting to find a bullet or perhaps a scar, though he found nothing to indicate he had ever been injured.
There was no response save the slight breeze behind him, flapping what sounded like paper. He turned to find a small wooden box with a piece of brown paper sticking neatly out from under the lid which he pulled free. A quick glance revealed it was a map of what appeared to be Southern Nevada. Printed at the bottom of the page were the words Yea; though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. Lifting the lid of the box John found a pair of Colt pistols, highly polished and gleaming in the light. Inscribed in the bottom of the lid were the words for thou art with me.