Mortimer P. Worthy stepped out of his modest size home, straightened his checkered tie and proceeded down the cement path towards his car. Eileen kept the new car, her Mazda, in the garage while Mortimer parked his five-year-old gray Corolla out front underneath a tall spruce tree. It was an unusually warm Wednesday in March, making his five-minute drive to work quite enjoyable. He lowered all four windows, turned on the classic rock station and drove down the block.
His job was going to be especially satisfying today. All five of his English classes had been reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and today was the day they would be held accountable. Mortimer preferred essay tests, something his students detested. Of course grading all one hundred and twenty five tests would be a pain, but it’s not like he was obligated to get them back to the students tomorrow.
Mortimer thought of Johnny Caralta, who was constantly breaking his chops, as he cruised down the street. In all his years teaching, Johnny was by far the worst kid of them all. He doubted Johnny ever picked up the book; all he ever did was flirt with Samantha O’Reilly or interrupt his discussions with some inane comment or noise. Well, today would be Johnny’s day of reckoning. If he didn’t pull an eighty five on this test he was off the baseball team.
One stop sign, one red light and then the usual parking spot in the back of the building, a routine Mortimer could do with his eyes closed. His thoughts continued to wander as he approached the red light. Softball season was almost here, he had to remember to put a try out notice in the morning announcements. The light turned green and Mortimer automatically began rolling out, failing to see Edward Dwayne Nassour and his red Pathfinder come flying down the road. Edward had once again overslept and was once again in a mad dash, hoping he could make it to work before Mr. Dishman realized he wasn’t at his desk.
Mortimer lazily turned to his left, his foot gently pressing down on the gas when he saw Edward coming right at him. There was nothing either man could do; the moment of impact was less than a second away. English tests and angry bosses were no longer a pressing concern as the cars collided at the intersection of Cortelyou and Lamoka. Witnesses later told police on the scene it was the loudest crash they had ever heard. Edward had been doing at least seventy and his truck had nearly sliced Mortimer’s car in half, before flipping over eight times and coming to a stop almost one hundred feet away.
There were no survivors, only remains.
Mortimer was pissed.
He was forty-four years old and was still in what he considered the prime of his life. He had been teaching English for eighteen years at two different schools and life had become quite monotonous. At his sister’s request, he started to write down the stories he told his nieces and nephews. She believed there was potential and was going to show her friend who had an in at a publishing company. Perhaps if things broke right he wouldn’t be dealing with the Johnny Caralta’s of the classroom when he was sixty. Maybe he could spend his years sitting on the back patio jotting down amusing stories and making a comfortable living.
Of course, none of the above mattered. Mortimer was dead and presently watching police keep the gawkers at bay while his mortal remains lay scattered on the pavement. He paced up and down the street when he had the sudden urge to find the person who did this and kill them…again. Mortimer stormed up the street and saw firefighters on the scene hosing down the fire which had erupted from the truck. He stood in front of the smashed windshield, looked in and screamed,
“Hey! Hey you! Come out here!”
He heard movement coming from inside the vehicle and a badly charred man crawled out from the wreckage. He looked like he had been left on the barbeque an hour too long.
“What do you want?” he replied somewhat hostile.
“What do I want? Are you kidding me? You killed us!”
“So? We’re both dead now, ain’t nothing we can do.”
“I at least want an explanation, maybe an apology.”
“Maybe if you were paying attention we wouldn’t be dead!”
“Me? Are you trying to blame this on…hey, where are you going?”
Edward Dwayne Nassour had started walking down the street, leaving a trail of charred remains, obviously not interested in furthering the conversation.
“Get back here! You owe me my life! I want my life back!” Edward didn’t care enough to turn around and said with a mix of sarcasm and indifference,
“Why don’t you make a deal with the Devil? Isn’t that what people do in situations like this?”
Mortimer began to say something, but stammered and nothing coherent came out of his mouth. Instead, he shot both middle fingers in the air and began gesturing wildly at the departing murderer.
“The Devil. Ha, very funny.” He said to himself. What am I supposed to do, call out for him and he’ll appear out of some ominous smoke?”
Quite the opposite, actually.
Mortimer shrieked and turned around to see the prince of darkness standing behind him. He was over eight feet tall, blood red, with the horns and tail and looking a little like Pierce Brosnan. The stereotypical appearance, save for the Armani suit he was wearing.
“Are you…are you the….”
Satan himself. Charmed to make your acquaintance. The Devil deeply bowed.
“You’re wearing a suit?”
I take on the appearance of whatever is in your mind’s eye and this is a much better looks than what I’m accustomed to. Thank you.
“You’re welcome?” His response was half questioning the reality of the situation and half embarrassed.
Now, I take it you didn’t call on me to have a polite conversation regarding my appearance, correct?
“That would be correct, yes. The reason why I called is because I was killed this morning by some asshole who didn’t even accept responsibility!”
There is nothing more offensive than rudeness, the Devil said with a tsk.
“Yes! Thank you. Anyway, the one thing he did do for me was suggest I contact you…“
In order to resume your life?
The two beings shared a laugh. “Wow, the Devil really is a decent guy,” Mortimer thought to himself.
I can’t exactly do that. There are rules, you know.
“Not to be rude, but if you can’t do that for me, what can you do?”
An ominous smile formed across the Devil’s genial face. With a flourish he exclaimed,
I can allow you to go back and make your life better than what it was.
Yes. You can go back and influence things so that way you’ll be infinitely more satisfied with the duration of your life.
“Hmmm,” Mortimer tapped the area on his face where a chin should be and pondered. “Influence how?”
I’ll explain everything in tedious detail if you’d like. I like to give my perspective clients all the necessary information.
“Okay but before you do tell me the catch. I’ve read enough books and seen enough movies to know there’s always a catch with you.” The Devil laughed like a British man watching Monty Python.
I love how paranoid humanity has become. Always thinking someone is out to get them. The notion of tricking unsuspecting men and women into giving me their soul is a propaganda trick started by the opposite side. Here is the catch, as you say. In exchange for my gift, you agree that at the end of your life you’ll spend the remaining eternity with me.
The suggestion of eternity with Satan caused Mortimer to pause. Enough had been said and written of the devil being a purely evil creature. Did he want to be condemned to a lifetime with him?
“I don’t know. Eternity is a long time.”
Before you decide please allow me to finish. I will bring you back to any day you like. You will be a spirit, unseen by anyone, including your younger self. You will have one day, from the moment your younger self wakes up to the moment your younger self falls asleep to change your life.
Mortimer clapped his hands in excitement. “You’re saying I could go back a couple of hours and make myself late for work and miss the accident? That’s great!”
No, I’m not saying that at all. The Devil said with some irritation. Remember when I said I don’t have that kind of power? You’re dead; there is no coming back from death. I’m allowing you the opportunity to improve your life up to the moment of your untimely demise. To go back and offer a suggestion that will allow you a more prosperous life, with the perspective of the knowledge you have right now.
“So I could tell my younger self to buy stock in Google and Apple?” His voice rose like a little boy telling Santa Clause what he wanted for Christmas.
Now you’re getting it. Although I’m not sure if simply an influx in money would bring you happiness. You seem like a deeper man than that. Mortimer thought about it and slowly nodded.
“I guess you’re right.”
Don’t give up now dear friend. You were a teacher for almost twenty years. In a perfect world what would you rather have done?
“I like to tell stories.” Mortimer said, sounding more like George Costanza telling Jerry Seinfeld what kind of job he wanted.
Good, good! Now we’re getting somewhere.
“My sister was just saying how I should write them down and she would try to get me published!” His enthusiasm rose on every word.
What if you didn’t need your sister’s help? What if you went back twenty years and told yourself a guaranteed best selling story?
“I couldn’t think of a guaranteed best seller when I was alive. How would I think of one now that I’m dead?”
You’re not thinking big enough. You could tell yourself The Da Vinci Code and write it! You could take one of the thousands of James Patterson best sellers and slap your name on it. Do you see what I’m saying?
“You’re saying I could steal The Hunger Games?!”
Yes exactly! So, I suggest you go back to your mid to late twenties. You would still be young enough to use that imagination of yours while at the same time have enough life experience to write some quality material. Since you were a teacher all these years I’m assuming you took the summers off?
“That would be correct.”
Good. Then I say you go back to the summer of your twenty-seventh birthday. This also allows you to keep one year of teaching under your belt. We wouldn’t want to drastically change that.
“Yeah, despite the headaches I loved to teach.”
We’ll pick a rainy day so there are no distractions and you can significantly change your life for the better.
Mortimer paused. Something still wasn’t right. “I don’t know. This is too easy. I mean, you’re the Devil it’s your job to lie.” The Devil smiled and took a dramatic bow.
How can I be a liar if I’m telling you upfront I will own your soul? I’ll spell it out again for your benefit. Your life on Earth will be infinitely better. You will die in a car accident on this day regardless of what you change and when you die your soul will belong to me.
Mortimer felt uneasy and looked around. “Wait, shouldn’t God or an angel or something show up and give me another option?”
You called for me and God gave humans free will. It’s up to you to decide. Mortimer paced back and forth debating. Finally, he reached a decision,
“And this isn’t some kind of trick?” The Devil smiled the smile of a patient man.
Human beings are remarkable at deceiving themselves. They don’t need help from me. I spelled out the situation and at the end you will end up with me. I don’t know how I can be any more plain.
“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do it.” He stuck out his hand and shook the Devil’s red claw.
You’ll see, it won’t be too bad. Besides, you’ll have an eternity to bask in your remarkable achievements.
For a second he lost his breath, which was strange considering he was dead. Mortimer instinctively closed his eyes, and when he opened them the world was pitch black. Panic set in as the idea that maybe the Devil isn’t the most truthful of characters popped into his brain. Relief washed over him as his eyes began growing accustomed to the dark and he realized where he was—the bedroom of the first house he bought with Eileen. His wife was a fussy sleeper, thus the dark curtains and the absence of any light whatsoever in the room.
Mortimer looked over at his alarm clock and saw that it was 6:20am. Eileen’s alarm wouldn’t be going off for another half hour, giving him plenty of time to formulate a plan. He came to an immediate conclusion; why waste any time? Be there the moment his younger self woke up and immediately give him the idea.
Dead Mortimer crept over to the left side of the bed and stared at his back for the first time in his life. The reality of the situation presented itself and Dead Mortimer laughed. His younger version wasn’t aware of him; he could jump on top of himself if he wanted to. He pulled the five-hundred count cream sheets back, climbed into bed and waited for his younger eyes to open. The excitement of the moment was building and he started jabbering out loud,
“You are going to be so happy when you wake up. The only thing you’ll have to do is grab a pen and start writing everything down. Hell, if you’re really lazy you can even tell Eileen. You’re going to write about a post apocalyptic world where kids…”
“BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP”
The sound startled Dead Mortimer so much he jumped backwards and fell out of bed. Fortunately, being dead precludes you from getting any bruises, broken bones or even being heard.
“What the hell was that?” Dead Mortimer thought to himself. He raced over to the window and saw the garbage truck outside, with a rather large man haphazardly depositing trash into the back of the vehicle. Behind him he heard another noise and turned to see his old self now awake.
“Good morning hun.”
“You want coffee babe?”
“Hmmmm,” his wife mumbled in reply.
“No problem.” He, rather the living version of He, kissed his wife on her forehead and rose out of bed.
“Game on,” he thought to himself.
His younger self made his way down the hallway and to the kitchen to put on the coffee. Scratching his stomach, Alive Mortimer stretched and yawned. Dead Mortimer knew he couldn’t absorb a thought without coffee and decided to get the most out of the experience. He could walk down memory lane and come back in ten minutes when his young brain was eager for information.
The first place he went to was the downstairs rec room. The old gray La-Z-Boy! Eileen hated that chair and when they eventually moved would force him to put his precious chair to the curb, an act that nearly broke his heart. The chair was his dad’s, and his mother spent years trying to get rid of it as well. Finally, his dad gave in but instead of throwing it out, his dad gave it to him as a house-warming present. Neither of the Worthy women was pleased. But the year wasn’t 2014, it was 1997 and his chair was still his.
Dead Mortimer sat down, cranked the lever back and let out a gratified sigh. He ran his hands over the upholstery and stared at the various little stains that had come from spilling a drink or a little ice cream. Various thoughts of childhood came to him and would have still come to him if he hadn’t looked up at the clock.
How was that possible? It was 6:20am a minute ago! Apparently time didn’t behave the same for the dead as it did for the living. With a rush Mortimer bolted out of the chair and upstairs. How fortunate he was for looking up when he did, he thought with a shiver.
Dead Mortimer wandered around the house, looking for his living self. Where the hell did he go? He checked the calendar and saw an empty box where, Tuesday August 12 resided. Pressing his thumbs to his temples, Mortimer concentrated on what had happened that day. Where could he have gone? The minutes passed and the answer continued to elude him. How the hell was he supposed to remember a random Tuesday?
Mortimer checked the clock and saw it had jumped to 3:39. Time was slipping away and there was nothing he could do and he gave his soul away for nothing and…
There was a vibration underneath his feet.
The garage door was opening! In two minutes, (or a couple of seconds to Dead Mortimer) Alive Mortimer would be walking up the stairs. He ran to the door to greet himself like a puppy awaiting his master. The moment that door opened he would start talking and wouldn’t stop until the idea stuck.
His younger entered and in a Herculean effort was carrying twenty-eight bags of groceries to avoid a second trip. Typical Mortimer, he thought to himself. He followed his younger self, struggling to make his way to the kitchen while talking the entire time.
“Mortimer, listen to me right now. Imagine a post apocalyptic world where kids were forced to fight kids due to a corrupt government. There’s a main character named Katniss, okay I really don’t like that name we can change it to something better but that’s not the point. The point is she’s the hero and we follow her and a boy who’s in love with her who was a baker. No, his father was a baker, he just enjoys eating bread named Peeta.” Mortimer laughed. “That’s the first time I got the joke. Pita bread. That’s actually kind of funny. He’s with her and there’s a romance and she shoots an arrow into a force field and you’re going to make millions!”
Dead Mortimer watched as Alive Mortimer paused in front of the cabinet while holding a box of Frosted Flakes. A smile came over his living self. The seed was planted, now all he had to do was write it. Alive Mortimer put the box down and ran to the office next to their bedroom, with Dead Mortimer firmly on his heels. He turned the computer on and stood there antsy, his left foot tapping the ground. Their computer wasn’t the newest brand, or the fastest. Booting up would take a couple of minutes.
Just enough to go grab a snack from the fridge.
Dead Mortimer watched his other him leave the room. He rationalized the move by saying, “Okay, no big deal. Just going to grab a drink, maybe a bite to eat. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes, the computer will be ready and we can do this.” Mortimer stared at his crappy computer as it ran through the various processes and programs needed to start. For a second, Mortimer wondered if his living self was going to get distracted, but that fear was alleviated upon seeing himself walk in with a glass of iced tea in his hand. He watched himself climb into the computer chair, set his glass down and open up Microsoft WORD. Dead Mortimer could hear the chimes of the cash register ringing over and over inside his head. He was going to be rich, successful and best of all, never deal with annoying kids who wouldn’t do their homework! His younger self put his fingers to the keyboard and was ready to start typing away when he suddenly stopped. Dead Mortimer barely heard what his younger self said,
The New York Mets were playing a day game today in St. Louis. This was the first year they were good since 1989 and his younger self was not going to miss any game for any reason. That meant there would be no writing for the next couple of hours. His younger him made his way downstairs, sat down on his favorite chair and turned the television on. It was only the top of the fourth, meaning at least another two hours. Resigned to the situation, Dead Mortimer sat down on the couch and watched along.
An hour later the game was over and both Mortimers were in a bad mood. Alive Mortimer was pissed because they lost 5-2 and played like garbage. Dead Mortimer was pissed because time was ticking away. Mortimer remembered how he was after a loss; writing would be the last thing he wanted to do. How the hell was he going to get himself over to the computer? He needed another idea, and fast. He needed magic. He needed….
Dead Mortimer raced over to himself, sitting there angry on the La Z Boy.
“What if you had the ability to change the results of the game? What if you could do magic? What if you were the chosen one, sent to defend everyone from the most evil wizard on the planet? What if your name was Harry Potter?”
The familiar smile washed over his face and this time, instead of casually walking to the office room, Alive Mortimer jogged upstairs. This was money. The killing kids idea would be nothing but headaches, but this one was money. Plus, it could be for kids. Merchandising, movie rights, this was it. Alive Mortimer sat down on the computer chair leaned back and cracked his knuckles. Dead Mortimer walked into the room to watch his life change forever when the phone rang.
Thankfully he was never a phone person, so the conversation would only last a couple of minutes—tops. In fact, the only person who could keep him on the phone was his friend Mike because they would talk nothing but Mets.
“Oh no,” he thought to himself. “The Mets just lost, that means….”
“Hey Mike, yeah I watched. We gave that game away.”
“No no no! This conversation could last an hour!” Dead Mortimer thought to himself. He sat back, resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do but wait.
Ninety minutes later, Mortimer hung up the phone. It was now 5:45pm. Eileen would be home in forty-five minutes. The good news was he had remained in the chair in front of his computer. All he had to do was get himself to write the idea down and frame out the general outline. Once he did that, he could always come back to the story tomorrow or the next day. Just start typing!
Alive Mortimer pulled himself in towards the desk and paused. Dead Mortimer took that as his cue to once again give the idea.
“Wizards, magic, Harry Potter. Annoying relatives. Boarding school for magical people. Lord Voldemort.”
The smile returned to his younger self and he typed out, “The” when the phone rang again. Dead Mortimer slammed his fist down on the desk and swore repeatedly. Who could this be? Dead Mortimer listened to half the conversation.
“Hey, honey what’s up?…No I don’t mind…I don’t want you going alone…Not a problem I’ll pick you up at the bus stop and we’ll go together…Love you too.”
Immediately Mortimer remembered, his wife’s co-worker’s mother had died and the funeral services were that night. Out of all the nights! Mortimer watched as his younger self walked out of the room and into the shower. Not to downplay a tragedy but this could be good; the best ideas came in the shower. His younger self turned on the hot water and just as he was going into the shower stopped to turn on WFAN.
How the hell was he going to get through to his thick skull if he was going to listen to sports talk radio? He could feel his own thoughts, they were a mixture of trivial sports and the nature of death. No matter how many times he tried to talk, there would be no getting through and he resigned to waiting until the wake was over.
After the wake they went out for drinks with some of his wife’s other co-workers. Time was slipping through his hands and there was nothing he could do to keep a thought implanted inside his head. Finally, they said their goodbyes and were in the car.
It was go time.
He let his wife talk about the night and the wake. After all, he had to be a good husband. Mortimer patiently waited until there was a proper lull and when his wife seemed to be all talked out said,
“Listen to me very carefully. A young wizard named Harry Potter. His parents are killed by an evil wizard. He has friends who have red hair and weird sexual chemistry. His uncle is a werewolf. I want you to speak this out loud and tell Eileen so you won’t forget.” Mortimer watched as a glimmer appeared in his younger version’s eye.
“I know this is going to be random but can I tell you something?”
“Sure what’s up?”
“A weird idea just came to me about a boy who is a wizard and there’s a bad guy who murders his parents and I think this could be something big.” His wife stared at him without saying a word. “Well, what do you think?”
“This is weird but I think it’s been done already.”
“What?” both Mortimers replied in synch.
“Yeah I was talking with Maggie the other day and she’s reading a book that you just described. I think it’s called Henry Cotter or something like that.”
“Damn it!” Dead Mortimer exclaimed, and then said again when he realized they were home. The three of them made their way upstairs while Dead Mortimer decided to go back to The Hunger Games.
“Okay this isn’t a big deal. Let’s focus on Katniss, or maybe we’ll call her Janice. She’s a tough teenage girl and…”
“I’m going to take a shower. You want to join me?”
“Yeah? You sure?
“Do I have to ask you twice?”
Dead Mortimer hadn’t counted on that.
No matter, there would still be time. He would just now have to wait for the shower to be over. Dead Mortimer listened for the shower to shut off and watched as his satisfied self and blushing bride walked down the hallway and into the bedroom. The happily married couple settled into bed and Eileen put her head down on his chest.
This was it, Dead Mortimer’s last chance. He could whisper the plot and have Mortimer tell his wife. That way the idea would be in both their heads and guaranteed to be written down at some point.
“Tell me something,” his wonderful wife exclaimed. Oh, he could kiss her right now. This was the perfect moment. He would his younger self the story of The Hunger Games, who would repeat verbatim to his wife. She would love it and he would be so excited by her enthusiasm he would start writing tomorrow. Mortimer leaned in and spoke while his younger self repeated.
“Well I had an idea for a children’s story, but it wouldn’t just be for kids. It’s set in the future.”
“It’s about this girl who is forced to fight other kids to the death and—“
Eileen jumped off his chest and looked down at her husband.
“Are you kidding me? Kids fighting to the death? What kind of story is this?”
Dead Mortimer was pale in the face. Or as pale as a dead face could be. His wife was ruining everything.
“Well that’s not the whole story, it’s got a lot of political elements too.”
“Let me get this straight. You want to write a children’s story about kids murdering kids AND there’s politics involved too?”
Dead Mortimer knew he was losing the fight and decided to change gears. But to what? What else was there? Potter was out, Katniss was out. What was left? Dead Mortimer snapped his fingers, The Da Vinci Code.
“Maybe you’re right about this kids but how about this. What if Jesus wasn’t really God? What if He was married to Mary Magdalene and…”
You would have thought Mortimer stabbed his wife in the chest with a dull blade from the ferocity of her reaction.
“Stop! Stop right now! You’re going to write something that tears down your religion? You would prostitute your faith for a book? And what if you did get that published and people took it as fact? You could affect the faith of thousands, or millions!”
Young Mortimer looked horrified and agreed with his wife.
“I don’t know why I said that. I guess the wake kind of shook me up. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. I know you’re looking for that million dollar idea. Don’t worry babe I believe in you. One day you’re going to write a great book!” Young Mortimer leaned in and kissed his wife while Dead Mortimer stood up on the bed and shouted,
“No! No I won’t if you keep rejecting my ideas! Why did I marry you? Oh my God I’m dead and I’m going to lose my soul!”
“What do you say, Mort? We’ve both had a long day. You want to turn over and pass out?”
“Sounds good. Give me one more kiss first.”
Mortimer and Eileen kissed and turned over while Dead Mortimer remained standing in shock. He couldn’t think of anything else and the clock was running out. If he didn’t plant an idea before Alive Mortimer fell asleep, he was literally doomed. Panic flooded his systems like ice water in the Titanic and he began shouting out premises,
“A REIMAGINED BATMAN BUT GRITTIER!”
“TEENAGE GIRL FALLS IN LOVE WITH VAMPIRES AND NOTHING HAPPENS!”
He heard himself snoring and knew it was over.
Here’s where you’ll be staying for the rest of eternity. As you can see there are no amenities, no comforts to be found. You’ll be sleeping on this jagged rock while bugs of various kinds crawl over you and eat you alive. The Devil stood over him, pointing at the bugs crawling on the ground.
“And this will go on for…” The words barely escaped the grimace on his face.
Eternity. After ten thousand years we’ll switch it up a bit. Wouldn’t want you to get bored of the same horrible punishment over and over, if you get my drift.
Mortimer P. Worthy stood there and gazed around. In frustration he shouted out,
“Why are there two rocks?”
Well we like to maximize space here in hell so you have a roommate. Say hello to, umm what’s your name again?
Another soul walked in, leaving a trail of cockroaches and spiders in his wake. He said with tremendous indifference,
“Edward Dwayne Nassour.”
Mortimer P. Worthy’s jaw dropped and he stared at his new roommate.
“You! Not only did you kill me, but you convinced me to sell my soul! And now I have to live with you forever?”
The Devil laughed and said,
Oh that’s right, I forgot. You guys know each other. How funny is that? Morty, you didn’t even hear the best part. Hey Eddie, what’s the name of your son?
“And what’s his last name?”
“Well, his horrible mother changed it when she got remarried.”
Mortimer’s face flushed with anger.
“So what I’m hearing is that the father of the worst kid I ever taught is responsible for my death, eternal damnation and my roommate forever.” He ran over and punched Edward right in the face. Edward spat out a tooth and responded with a left cross of his own. The two men stood there screaming, beating the hell out of each other. The demon looked on in amusement, smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Come now, Mortimer, what are you mad about? All great authors know the devil is in the details.