Don Young was a petty thief. He focused on robbing any place that looked easy like quickie marts and mom and pop stores. His wife, Karen, was constantly nagging him to change his life. “Get out of the robbing business Don. What you’re doing is wrong. I don’t want to be married to a thief.”
“Karen, what else can I do? I don’t have any skills. I don’t have a high school diploma. What do you want me to do?”
“You’re young. You could go to school and learn a trade. Don, one of these days, something terrible is going to happen to you.”
“What can happen, Karen? I don’t rob any places that have guards. What can happen?”
“Don, stop being a thief or I’m leaving you.”
“Okay, okay. Just one more job. Tonight will be my last. I promise.”
“Okay. You’d better mean it or else.”
That night, Don held up a man in his small grocery store. “Give me all your money, or else.”
“Okay, mister. Okay,” the man said, opened the register, took out a gun and shot Don.
The police came, identified Don, and took the body away. His identification led them to his wife to whom they gave the news. “Mrs. Young, I’m sorry to have to tell you that your husband was shot and killed by a man whose store he held up,” Officer Harper said.
“I knew it was going to happen,” she said sobbing. “I told him something terrible would happen if he didn’t stop. He didn’t listen.”
The officers left, and Karen sat on her couch and sobbed. Several minutes later, the phone rang. “Hello?”
“Karen, it’s me, Don.”
“Is this a joke? Don is dead. Who is this?”
“Karen, I’m telling you it’s me, and I am dead. Karen, I’m in purgatory.”
“Purgatory? Okay, who is this and what’s going on?”
“Karen, there are a lot of dead people waiting to use the phone. I’ll call you back later,” he said and hung up.
Karen sat back. “It sounded like Don, but Don is dead. Purgatory? We never believed in all that stuff.” After a few minutes, the phone rang and she answered it. “Hello?”
“Karen, it’s me. Karen, you gotta get me outta here. The place is crawling with dead people, and one of the guys who runs the place told me that some of the dead people are gonna take their elevator upstairs, and some are gonna have to take the down elevator downstairs. Karen, I know they’re gonna send me downstairs. You gotta get me outta here before it’s too late for me.”
“Jeez, Don, how am I supposed to get you outta there?”
“Go talk to somebody who believes in this stuff. Find a priest and find out how to get me outta here,” he said and hung up.
Karen went to a church where she found a priest lighting candles. “Excuse me. Do you have a minute?”
“Of course, my child, how can I help you?”
“Uh, this might sound strange, but do you believe in purgatory?”
“Of course. Catholics believe there is purgatory. Why?”
“Well, uh, suppose someone is in purgatory and wants to get out. How can he get out?”
The priest looked at her as though she was crazy. “Uh, my dear, souls in purgatory are of the dead. When you’re dead, you’re dead. From purgatory, the dead go either to a heaven or to the underworld. That’s a rule. There are no lateral moves. When you’re dead, you’re dead.”
“So, there’s no way to get out of purgatory?”
“Thanks,” she said and went home. When she got home, she locked the door and went into the living room where she found a man sitting in her easy chair. Everything he wore was black. His hair was black and combed back exposing a widow’s peak, and his skin had a reddish tint.is HHHhhhh “Hey, who are you? How’d you get in here?”
“Calm down, my dear. I am your friend, and I entered your apartment through the door. The usual way.”
“What are you doing here? What do you want?”
“I’m here to help you. I can get your husband out of purgatory and bring him back to you. My sources told me that your husband is going upstairs. Though he is a thief, he has never hurt anyone, so he would not be sent downstairs. Let me get to the point. For some reason, business downstairs has been slow, and my boss wants me to get more traffic going downstairs. Here’s the deal. I will get your husband out of purgatory if you will provide me with a soul that I can send downstairs.”
“Huh? What? Provide you with a soul that you can send downstairs? Now, where would I get a soul, a dead person, to give you to send downstairs?”
“You will find one. I will return your husband to you now, and I will give you one year to replace him with a soul that I can take downstairs. If you do not find a replacement, I will return your husband to purgatory. Remember, it must be someone who has hurt another person. A murderer is acceptable,” he said, waved his hand, Don appeared, and the man disappeared.
“Don, you’re back,” she squealed, ran to him, and they embraced.”
“Karen, how’d you do it?”
“I made a deal with a guy who needs souls to take downstairs. If I can find such a person, a bad person, then you don’t have to go back to purgatory.”
“Well, honey, it’s good to be home. Now, I gotta figure out which place I’m gonna rob.”
“What?” she screamed. “I didn’t get you out of purgatory to go back to your old ways. I’m not going to be married to a thief. I told you that. What does it take for you to learn? You’re a stupid moron. I’m leaving you,” she yelled, and went into the bedroom to pack a suitcase.
“Honey, please don’t leave me. Just one more job, and I promise I’ll quit.”
“I’m not staying married to a blithering idiot. A moron. The ultimate in stupidity.”
“Karen, y’ gotta stop calling me names. My father used to call me those names over and over and over,” he growled and hit Karen knocking her down. She got to her feet and grabbed a candle stick from the bureau, hit Don as he lunged for her, and he fell to the floor dead.
She fell to his side and held his head. “Don, oh Don, I didn’t mean to…”
The man in black appeared. “Well done. It didn’t take you long to find a murderer whom I can take downstairs.”
“I didn’t find a murderer. I… Oh, my God. I’m a murderer. Please don’t take me. I didn’t mean it. Please don’t take me.”
“A deal’s a deal, Karen, now you are mine,” he said, waved his hand, and both disappeared.
Don went to purgatory and spent a long time there because he was a two-time loser and those who ran purgatory weren’t sure what to do with him. Karen went directly to purgatory, where she was ushered into the elevator that took her downstairs. She wasn’t happy because downstairs was, well, hell.
BIO: While teaching speech and English at a community college, Mr. Greenblatt wrote short stories and plays, one of which won a reading at Smith College. After retiring, he wrote short stories and novellas. Several of his stories were published in on-line magazines, and others were published in print anthologies.