The Story Teller - Tony Bertot
In the battle between good and evil we have the Angels and Takers battling it out for souls.
This is the story of Tragedy, one of Lucifer's Takers who avoided detection before it was too late and became the most powerful Taker to ever exist.
The continual crusade between good and evil has existed since the beginning of time in both the spirit and mortal worlds. In the forefront of these battles are the Angels and Takers who constantly collide in their zeal to collect the souls of the departed.
Their purpose is to guide the souls of the recently departed to one of three destinies. The blessed ones seamlessly enter a new host: a babe receiving the first breath of life. This is the journey that most souls take. They are the learners, reincarnated until they have reached spiritual fulfillment. The second, and most exceptional group, ascend to the heavens where they join the Almighty and those who have gone before them. Finally, the souls that cannot be saved are left to wander the spirit world until collected by a Taker and incorporated into Lucifer’s army.
In the beginning, good easily triumphed over evil. Through the centuries, however, that balance has been threatened, causing certain rules to be put in place in order to control the growth and advancement of Lucifer’s followers. The first, and most important of these rules, prohibits Takers from collecting any souls unless it’s within the first hour of a given day. Between midnight and 1:00am, Takers may seize any soul wandering in the spirit world, unless an Angel gets to it first and whisks it away. The second rule prevents any Angel or Taker from causing the death of a mortal, either directly or indirectly. The final rule prohibits any Taker or Angel from physically appearing before a mortal, which might influence their beliefs, thus causing a vast imbalance on how mortals perceive life after death.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Angels to prevent the abduction of mortal souls who have passed on during any given hour before midnight. Rare as it might be, some good souls are lost to the dark Takers. However, while the Takers outnumber the Angels by a significant margin, the elder Angels are the more powerful of the two and can easily, and permanently, dispel a Taker. Because of this, many stolen souls are recovered during the midnight hour.
Elder Angels are easily identified by their large, beautiful wings. After having served in Heaven for however long God deems fit, souls are promoted to status of Angel. Angels live forever, unless they are defeated by a Taker or vanquished for deviating from their responsibilities.
Most Takers are wingless and cannot move as swiftly from one location to another. They develop their wings over time with the gaining of strength from gathering souls. Their services are limited to three to five hundred years before they are vanquished because they either broke a rule and an Angel unleashed justice upon them or became too cocky and were subject to the wrath of Lucifer. In the order of the spirit world Takers are submissive to Angels, being unable to interfere with the souls that have been claimed by them. For this reason, Takers seek obscurity from those souls, thus avoiding any confrontation that may result in their demise. Because of who they serve, Takers are known for their misdeeds, which eventually lead to their permanent removal of service.
It should be noted that animals are also part of the Kingdom of God, and their souls are also part of the harvesting. Gathering of all souls, animal and mortal, brings strength to both Angels and Takers. However, Angels tend mostly to the protection of human souls, leaving animals open for claim by Takers. And since Angels are often too busy to notice the welfare of animal lives, it occasionally happens that a Taker intentionally causes their deaths.
No matter how strong an Angel or Taker becomes he is subject to the hierarchy within the spirit world. When either a Taker or an Angel is vanquished from existence, it is felt by all: an instant jolt that sends shockwaves throughout the spectral world.
Angels watch over one another as well as the Takers, ensuring the balance between good and evil remains. For thousands of years the balance endured—until now.
This is the story of a Taker who kept below the radar of the Angels, who slipped in and out of the overseers’ views for over a thousand years. Finally surfacing, she has become the most powerful Taker of them all. Her disdain for all living things, along with her callous disregard of all rules, has been brought to the attention of the elder Angels. Hopefully it isn’t too late.
Her name is Tragedy, and these are her chronicles.
An Angel Attack
Tragedy watched as an old woman with amber skin pushed a shopping cart filled with all her worldly belongings. She dragged one foot along the sidewalk as she made her way up to the recreation center, where hot soup and a sandwich awaited her. The cold, brisk December wind tugged at her long gray coat. She held it together tightly with one of her half-gloved hands as she pushed the cart with the other. Her exposed fingers were cold: a cold, she accepted.
There was no pity in Tragedy’s eyes, as she peered down from where she sat, high atop the church across the street. Invisible to the human eye, her black silhouette remained motionless, making her virtually invisible to those in her world as well.
The old woman continued her slow trek forward as the fierce wind mixed with light snow hammered her from every direction. Finally reaching the front of the recreation center, she turned her back to the entrance and began to pull the cart up the three steps that led to the front door. With slow and deliberate movement, she reached the threshold and pulled open one of the doors. She entered and paused a moment, summoning the strength to continue on into the recreation center as the warmth from within engulfed her.
“Heidi!” Someone shouted out to her.
The old lady looked up and waved, pleased to know that Sister Anne was among the volunteers serving food tonight. A basketball court served as a dining area during the weekdays. The chairs and tables were on the left side of the entrance, and on the right side was a parade of steaming pans with volunteers behind them, spooning up food onto the trays as the homeless marched by.
Heidi grabbed a tray and placed it on her cart as she moved along the line.
“Good evening, Heidi. And how are you feeling today?” Father Jacob asked.
Heidi looked up at him and nodded as the father placed a couple of biscuits on her tray. Moving along she came upon Mrs. Anderson, a volunteer from uptown.
“Heidi, do you have a place to stay tonight?” She asked. “It’s going to get mighty cold out there. They say it’s going to drop into the low teens.”
“I... I’m alright. I gotta place,” Heidi responded, somewhat annoyed. Heidi didn’t want people getting into her business. She knew Mrs. Anderson meant well; nonetheless, she didn’t like it.
Most of the people here were regulars. Though everyone kept to themselves, they knew of each other. Occasionally, there was eye contact followed by a nod of recognition, but that was it. Everyone had a story, and Heidi was no different.
Heidi parked herself at the end of one of the tables, pulling the cart alongside the table as she sat down to have her hot meal: a turkey sandwich smothered in gravy. How wonderfully delicious! Heidi thought.
Occasionally, Heidi would glance up to see if she knew any of the people here today. There, three rows down, she spotted her. The young girl with the two kids had become a regular fixture here at the recreation center. Once in a while she would help as a server, and Heidi had once spotted her in the kitchen cleaning the dishes. It was the youngest child that attracted Heidi’s attention the first time they came. She was the spitting image of her own daughter; the daughter she abandoned so many years ago.
Heidi recalled their first meeting.
The little girl walked up to Heidi and said, “Hi.” Heidi was startled by her and almost tripped. The girl’s mother rushed to her daughter’s side and apologized profusely to Heidi. Heidi smiled at her and raised her hand, shaking it as to ward off the young girl.
“It’s OK. She didn’t mean any harm. Please, it’s OK. She just startled me,” Heidi responded. The young lady nodded and quickly escorted her child away.
Later, the little girl came over to Heidi and, with a tear in her eye, told her she was sorry. Heidi stared down at the innocent child and smiled at her. “There is no need to apologize to me,” she told her. “What’s your name?”
“Heidi. My name is Heidi,” the little girl answered.
“What? But that’s my name,” Heidi responded.
The little girl looked up at her and smiled. “Yes, I know. That’s why I came up to you. I heard the people call you Heidi.”
“Well, isn’t that just grand,” Heidi remarked.
“It sure is,” little Heidi answered with a big smile.
Now, every once in a while, Heidi would see them here, and the little girl would run up to her just to say, “Hi.”
Heidi looked forward to her conversations with the child and was anxious for little Heidi to turn around and spot her.
Heidi looked down at her dish and was about to take another bite when out of nowhere little Heidi stood before her.
“Hi, Miss Heidi,” the little girl said.
Heidi looked up from her plate and smiled. “Well, ‘hi’ to you too, Miss Heidi,” the old woman responded, and they both laughed.
Little Heidi’s mother turned from where she sat and waved at the old woman who in turn waved back.
“So what have you been up to?” The old woman asked the little girl.
“Well... Not much. Tonight we are going to stay in the church. Sister Anne told us to, because it’s really going to get cold, and the church is always warm. I like sleeping in the church, because God lives there and he watches over us. And you know Jesus lives there too and watches over us too. And do you know what the best thing is?” The little girl asked.
“No, tell me what the best thing is,” the older Heidi said.
“Because we are already in the church, we can pray and it will go directly to God. So tonight, I am going to do a lot of praying,” Heidi added.
“Really? And what are you going to pray for?” The older woman asked.
“Well. . . First of all, I have to say thank you for the food we got here today. Next, I have to say thank you that we are not sick; Mommy tells me to say that. Then, I am going to ask God to help my mommy find a good job tomorrow, so we can get a real place to stay; like we had before Daddy went to heaven and we lost our house.”
Heidi stared back at the little girl, struggling to hold back the tears that welled up in her eyes.
“You do that,” the old woman told her. “Well, I got to go now,” the old woman said as she finished her meal and rose to her feet.
Little Heidi stared up at her and stepped aside as the old woman put both her hands on her cart, turned it and began to walk away.
“Oh, wait,” little Heidi said, taking a few steps after the old woman.
The old woman turned and looked back at the little girl. “Yes, dear?” She asked.
“I almost forgot. I am also going to pray that you too don’t get sick, and that you too are warm tonight,” the little girl responded.
“Thank you, dear. And God bless you,” the elder Heidi responded as she quickly turned and shuffled away.
Now hurriedly heading toward the exit door, the little girl watched after her.
“Leaving so soon, Heidi?” One of the caretakers called out. The old woman waved her hand without turning and continued her path toward the door.
As she approached the winter night awaiting her outside, she turned and looked back only to find little Heidi standing there, still looking at her. Heidi waved and the little girl responded with a smile, turned and ran back to where her mother was sitting.
She always waits. Always waits for me to say goodbye. Persistent child, the old woman thought, smiling to herself.
Sitting atop the basketball hoop, Tragedy witnessed the entire episode between the little girl and the old woman.
The cold air hit Heidi hard as she ventured into the night. She headed north on Brighton Street, then turned at the corner and walked about a block before entering the neighborhood candy store.
“Heidi, you made it just in time,” the proprietor said.
Heidi reached into her coat pocket and withdrew a crumpled dollar and handed it to him. A few seconds later he handed her a lottery ticket. Same numbers she has played for more than ten years. She nodded and headed back outside.
“Heidi, where you staying tonight?” The man behind the counter asked her. “You know you can stay here tonight. There’s a warm room in the back,” he told her.
Heidi waved and nodded her thanks and went right on out the door, back into the cold wind. The snow was heavier now, and it was coming down hard.
Tragedy stared down from the lamppost she now occupied.
People seem to care about her. Why? She abandoned her children. Her husband committed suicide because of her. She is a wicked person. Don’t they know? Tragedy thought to herself. “Soon they will know. It is almost midnight. Soon they will know,” she said aloud to the night.
The old woman continued her walk for a couple of more blocks before turning into an alley. By now the wind was biting cold and the snow a blanket of white. The temperature had dropped another ten degrees since she had left the recreation center. Halfway down the alleyway she came upon a green garbage bin. From behind the bin she pulled three large cardboard boxes and brought them to the far side of the bin. Laying one on the ground and placing the other two against the bin, she crawled in for the night. Though cold, the cardboard boxes and garbage bin protected her somewhat from the frigid temperature and the falling snow. Soon the snow would cover the entire makeshift structure. But the warmth from her body would allow her to sleep comfortably. After a few minutes, she drifted off into a better world of a forgiving sleep.
Tragedy now squatted on the bin staring down at the cardboard. She started to pull off the cardboard to expose Heidi to the cold, snow and wind when suddenly she heard, “Stop!”
Startled, Tragedy jumped up, simultaneously grasping her black sword in a defensive move.
“Who dares to interrupt me?” Tragedy sneered through clenched teeth.
Above her on a fire-escape ladder stood a young male Angel with white hair and green eyes.
“Who are you?” Tragedy shouted up to him.
“I am Hope! Why are you tampering? Are you so hungry to take a soul?” Hope inquired. Tragedy stared back at the young Angel—who was obviously too young to understand how things worked.
“I have a busy schedule to keep, and I don’t have time to waste. She made her bed, figuratively speaking, and now it is time for her to sleep in it,” Tragedy announced.
“Well, I won’t have it,” Hope responded calmly.
Tragedy stared back at him and started to laugh. “You won’t have it?” She mocked.
Instantly, the boy was on the ground, standing by the cardboard that protected the old woman. In one hand he held a sword and in the other a shield. Tragedy stared at him, astonished by his fortitude.
“You’ve got some balls kid. Do you not know who I am?” Tragedy asked him.
“I don’t care who you are. I am here to protect her. She has not finished her time on this earth and I will not let you take her,” the boy responded, daring Tragedy to make her move. “Besides, we are not to interfere. We are to let nature take its course,” Hope told her, making a show of strength as he raised his sword in defiance.
Tragedy spread her wings before the young boy, showing that she was no ordinary Taker. “I am Tragedy,” she announced.
Taken aback by her statement, the Angel stepped back almost a foot before planting his feet once again. “Tra... Tragedy,” the boy whispered.
Those of their world knew the name Tragedy. She was not to be ignored. She had no conscience, her heart was as cold as ice, and few dared challenge her.
The Angel, only 300 years old, took a step forward with false bravado, trying to mask his fear. “Let the old woman go! You have no right to be here. She is not meant to die tonight,” the Angel commanded.
“No,” Tragedy responded.
“Her time here is not done. She has a chance to make amends. It has been foretold and that is why I am here. That is why I plead for her life. Others will benefit from her living on, others whose lives can be turned around. I beg of you; just this once walk away,” the boy shouted at her.
Tragedy stared back at the boy, then simply dismissed him, trying to get past as she reached for the cardboard. In an instant, the boy swung his sword and just as fast Tragedy blocked it, kicking the boy and causing him to fall backwards onto the ground.
“You dare to attack me!” Tragedy screamed as she advanced toward him.
The boy jumped to his feet and raised his sword in a defensive manner. Tragedy came at him quickly, leaping before he could swing his sword, and piercing his shoulder as she did so. The boy screamed with pain as he turned to face her, once again raising his sword.
“I could have easily taken your life,” Tragedy told him.
“And I would have gladly given it to save her’s,” the boy responded.
Tragedy stared at him. “You are a fool, Hope.”
Hope stood his ground, with sword at the ready. Tragedy came at him again, and with a quick movement of her sword she managed to disarm him, sending his sword flying into the deep and sightless night.
With the point of her sword under his chin, Tragedy tipped the Angel’s head back. “Go away, Hope, before I send you to the other world.”
Instead of backing away, the boy moved forward, daring Tragedy to take his life. She then raised her hand and was about to thrust forward when, suddenly, the boy ducked and drew a concealed knife. He lunged, missing his target by a mere whisper. Tragedy moved like a cat. Quickly stepping aside, she struck the boy with her other hand, sending him face forward onto the ground. With her foot now on the boy’s back and her sword resting on the nape of his neck, she held him down.
“I cannot believe you actually thought you could outwit me— that you could stop me.”
“Bu... But I have,” the boy spurted out.
“What?” Tragedy asked.
“It is well past the day’s first hour,” Hope responded.
Tragedy looked up at the night sky. “So it is,” she said angrily. She backed away from the boy and looked at the cardboard covering the old woman. The boy got up and looked at Tragedy. She knew the boy had won. She could not take the old woman’s soul now—at least not with an Angel to witness it.
Hope smiled triumphantly at her. “You lost,” he said.
Tragedy turned and looked at the boy and said, “It will be a few days before I can return to her, and then I will complete my task.”
Hope looked at her and nodded. “So be it.”
“And you, Hope, will you be here to stop me?” She asked as she turned her back and began to walk away.
“If I must,” he responded.
With prejudice, Tragedy turned and impaled Hope with her sword. Hope felt it enter his body as he looked up to meet her cold eyes. “Goodbye, Hope,” Tragedy said as she withdrew her sword and disappeared into the night.
Within seconds several Angels appeared at the site with swords drawn. Though there was no one to be seen they could sense that at this very spot a grave injustice had been done.
The next morning the old woman was on her feet, shuffling along. The morning sun felt good on her old bones as she made her way back to the candy store.
“Heidi! Heidi, I’ve been waiting for you,” the old man ran from behind the counter to greet her with joyous excitement. “Your numbers came in. You won the lottery! You are rich!” He spurted out.
Heidi looked up at him, confused. “Wha... What?”
“Heidi, you won! Your numbers came in,” he repeated as he hugged her, practically lifting her off the ground in the excitement. Heidi just stared at the old man as tears rolled down her eyes: a big smile broadened her face.
Two weeks later, Heidi’s soul was received by an Angel in a back alley just two blocks from the candy store. But before she was taken by the night, her broken spirit became whole again.
A month after her passing, the fortune visited upon Heidi was bequeathed to the candy store owner, Sister Anne and others in need of hope and shelter for a cold winter’s night-and to a special young girl who shared Heidi’s name.
Though a happy ending came to many, a sad irony existed—Heidi never got to learn that the little girl who shared her name was actually the child of the daughter she had given up so many years before.