The “Now serving” signs number went up another lonely digit.
Everyone looks up, more out of habit now then any real belief it was their number that was being called, more out of something to do then habit but mostly out of hope and dread. Funny how those always went together.
An older woman stood out of the throng this time, maybe in her mid 50’s, stern and crow faced and scarred with a gaze that flickered over the crowd with contempt.
You haven’t been called. You are not worthy. Her eye conveyed it all.
She came to the admissions desk and I didn’t even bother to look up. I just sat reading my files and waited, savouring it.
She was trying so hard to glare the top off of my head it was all I could do not to laugh.
An eternity passes before she clears her throat to draw my notice. She gets a bare flicker of notice and I push the tissues closer to her. I can feel the gaze darken and she speaks, her voice sharp and grated and far too loud, a voice used to being listened to and obeyed. I suppressed another small smile and turned a page while she spoke.
“Do you know who I am young man? You cannot treat me this way! Men died at my hands and I drank their blood and danced under the full moon in reverence of the dark one and I brought hundreds more to the faith to perform the rites and darken the land and I will not wait any longer! I am expected and I demand my audience!”
I allow the echo of her words to fade from the vast waiting room and make a show of finishing reading the blank form I’m holding. I allow yet a few moments more to lend a texture to the silence while not even keeping up the pretence of being occupied and to allow the random noises of those still waiting to begin to drown out my soft reply. “Please wait for your number to be called ma’am.” I slowly reach for the small microphone and click it on “Now calling...”
She slams her fist down on my desk, “ME! You are calling me!” She flails the strip of paper under my nose where she thinks bound to see it.
My eyes are closed but I can see it none the less.
“Ah yes ma’am, it is indeed your turn. Name?”
“Hergas of Babylon, demon summoner”
I review my notes “Hmm, Northern or Southern Babylon?”
Her rage claims her voice while she shrieks “There is no one you could mistake me for! I am here to speak with the Destroyer and claim my due. My slaughter was monstrous and in his name. I killed and defiled holy works for power. Babies were broiled at my command and served to their still weeping parents! I am Hergas the Dark Queen of Babylon and I demand my right!”
I review my notes never glancing in her direction. “One baby.”
“What!” she screams.
“That’s what is says here, one baby broiled, it was crib death and there was a famine. A lamentable situation but...”
“And the murders and dark rituals, the corruption and the dark magics? Do they mean nothing?”
“Well yes they do mean something for there is intent, that why you have been waiting. But you were never a witch, the locusts were not your summoning, tragedy happens. The curses? Some women are barren, some men break their arms, some children get sick and die. None of this was your power, just your wish.”
Her voice changes becoming supplicant and beginning just to crack, to beg “And the men I killed? I killed and drank their blood?”
I shake my head sadly, “Again regrettable, but the trauma has coloured your vision. You killed them yes but they were brigands and thieves, you lived in a bad part of the city and they came to you with ill intent in their hearts. That you killed them hardly marks strongly against your soul. It mostly marks your foresight. As for the blood drinking... we are chalking that up to post traumatic stress syndrome and mild starvation.”
“Then why am I here at all! I’ve spoken with many here, killers, murders and witches all! Why!” The last half strangled out on desperate half sobs I take pity on her and raise my gaze to meet hers’ and open my eyes.
The light of it almost unmakes her.
“Because child everyone sins, everyone is dark and nasty and small. You have been made to wait full measure and now it is your appointment with” I glance down and she nearly collapses before I pin her back up with my eyes “Marduk. He is very disappointed in you and you are to plead your case.”
The gate behind me opens to paradise as she sees the light issue forth and she weeps not for the beauty or joy of it. But because she sees all of her great evils and deeds are as nothing against the greatness of creation.
I reach out and touch her shoulder now and she flinches (they all do) as she sees me as I am and the light of it transfixes and transforms her and she passes the gates of paradise. No longer a dread monster of ancient times, now just a humbled woman who lived in hard times who could have lived better, going to plead her case.
She walks past and none but her see what comes and I smile.
“By the Gods I love this job.” I think out loud.
And I turn back to the waiting throng, near infinite but slowly getting though whatever they call this waiting time and I let an interval of time pass and turn the counter to the next and bury my face back into my paperwork.
“I get to meet the most interesting characters.”