THE LATE ONE by Pvtsnowa

The garden of the Fates is peaceful with blue birds chirping and vibrant yellow bees tending to the flowers. Lately a nervous tension has been growing and Atropos is on the verge of a break down. Clotho and Lachesis tried calming her but the task proved impossible.

On this bright and fine morning Clotho is steadily weaving the threads of life while Lachesis is measuring each one. Atropos would zip in periodically and snip a thread with a nervous glance around. Her sisters merely 'tisk-tisked' and shook their heads sadly. If you are worried about poor Atropos, then know that her sisters worry as well. If you are curious about her odd behavior, you will not be curious long for a hush came over the garden and all the birds stopped chirping. One particularly busy bee stopped flapping its busy wings and nearly dropped to the ground before resuming its flight. God was in the garden.

Atropos went to pieces. Her once beautifully glowing hair of blonde was faded in her distressed state and now went completely white as a steam whistle like sound issued from her mouth. She did not loose her head however and made no attempt to hide because you, her and I are all aware of the fact that it is impossible to hide from God. She stood with eyes downcast and waited for her judgment to fall upon her like a hurricane. When God didn't speak, she slowly brought her gaze up and made an attempt to meet His gaze. The attempt failed and I think we can all understand why, but this was all He was waiting for.

"Atropos, what have you done?" His question was vague and open to interpretation, as are all of his questions and statements, however, Atropos did not feign ignorance for that would be pure folly.

"Forgive me Lord, I have sinned." She said, somewhat lamely.

"I have granted My forgiveness to the mortals of Earth. For the denizens of Heaven, I offer no such luxury." His anger was not great but the anger of the Lord in any amount is not something to trifle with. "It is you who will pay for this one."

"Please Lord! I grew impatient, he was late!" Her excuse sounded pitiful in her ears and she could only imagine how bad it sounded to God's ears.

"Have you checked in on 'The Late One'?" The question was unnecessary he already knew the answer.

"Yes Lord, but once I snip the thread, I cannot undo it! I have tried everything and even enlisted the aid of my sisters, to no avail!" At the mention of her sisters, both gasped in shock and Clotho gave Atropos an accusing glare.

"You should have come directly to Me." He spoke true and she knew that was the course she should have taken.

"Please Lord! Is there nothing we can do?" Sobs now racked her body and she collapsed to the ground.

"ENOUGH!" God shouted and she sprung back up. "You will witness his fate first-hand, then I will pass judgment." As God uttered the word 'judgment', a mist began to shroud the ever-present glow of the sky, and the garden grew dim. Slowly Atropos's consciousness was forced into the consciousness of 'The Late One' at a point prior to the accident.

Esteban Awonz is Hispanic and like many of his people, he works in America. Standing at 5'6" with a slight build, he is unremarkable in appearance. Esteban rarely kept a job for more than a few weeks due to the fact that he was always late. There had never been a time when he was on time, not once in his life. He had given Mother Nature a very hard time on his original birthday, being three and a half months late! Thankfully, she waited until he was ready and he'd been late ever since.

Esteban is a hard worker, which is the only reason he could even keep a job for a few weeks. Today he is working hard, in a residential construction site, doing drywall work. When he breaks for lunch and a drink, he is late and all the burritos are gone. The Mango juice has been drained, but he manages to get a few drops of water out of a bottle in one of the paper sacks before returning to work. He does not mind missing lunch, he misses it every day and is used to it. Missing dinner is the one that always upsets him.

Esteban's death awaits him just outside, but he continues to work, while his friends and co-workers are laying brick on the scaffolds. His death is a small pile of bricks that will fall from the scaffold just as he leaves the house. The bricks sit perched and the workers ignored them, it was fate. When quitting time came, it was no surprise that Esteban was late arriving at the van and is left behind. Inside, he continues to work hard and as the hours wear on, the light begins to fade.

Atropos was brought instantly back to the garden and God's glare was upon her. She trembled and looked down instantly. She remembers all too well that this was the point where she had simply cut the thread. She had waited five hours for Esteban to leave the house and notice that the van was gone. She had given up hope and didn't want to miss the next episode of her favorite show, which was just about to start. She simply decided that if she snipped the string and it wasn't all right to do so, it wouldn't work and she would be forced to wait. The string was cut and Esteban's life ended. She then zipped off to the TV without a glance back.

"How long was it before you checked on 'The Late One'?" God asked.

"I checked just after the show ended." She said sadly and to the ground.

"Although it is a good show and I will be saddened when it is taken off the air, that is no excuse for your behavior. Everyone knows that Heaven has had DVR since the beginning of the TV era and that all shows can be watched at any time." She knew this but had always said that watching a program live was almost like living (Immortals are constantly wishing they were mortal, while mortals are constantly wishing they were immortal).

"WHAT?! MY SHOW WILL BE CANCELED!?" She shouted unable to contain herself, now her sadness was complete. Maybe that was the real reason they canceled it, to further punish Atropos.

"You have more pressing matters to attend." God said flatly and she was transported back into Esteban's consciousness.

The bricks fall from the scaffold and Esteban is killed, while he works inside the house. Esteban is late and through this enormous error in fate, he is so late that he actually misses his death. He continues to work, humming silently to himself while he plays happily in his mind. The reason that Esteban was always late was that he is a daydreamer. His entire life has been one enormous daydream and coming to America only enhanced his fantasy world. He would lose himself in his work and simply drift away. While he did this, he died but since the bricks didn't tell him he was dead (mainly by crushing his skull and pulping his brain) he had no way of knowing.

When the light fades entirely, he looks around and finds the front door. The first thing he does is trip over the bricks that lay in the stoop. Esteban begins to howl in pain before realizing that it doesn't hurt. At first he is puzzled but then he notices the van is gone. "Now I must walk all the way home!" he exclaimed, forgetting that he had just hurt himself.

He was miles from home and part of the walk led him into the city. He digs into his pockets to rest his hands while he walks briskly towards home. Dogs bark in the distance and somewhere nearby, an owl hoots but Esteban is not nervous or scared. Every day when the sun goes down, he makes his way home on foot. The longest walk had been back in '02 when they had been working out of town. The three-hour ride by van had taken him all day on foot. When he finally made it to the job he was late for the van, in a continuous cycle until he had collapsed by the road of exhaustion. Every morning he walked to work and every night he walked home.

He actually had no idea what it felt like to ride in a vehicle; he'd never arrived in time to catch one. This morning, the section of the city he had to walk through was pleasant and he'd even chatted with a few people along the way. Now, however, it was a different story. Richmond's streets can be very rough and this happens to be one of the roughest streets. Luckily Esteban was wearing his shoes and the rough street didn't give him any abrasions. The same can not be said of the thugs.

Two men, intent on taking Esteban's money, approach with guns drawn and wicked grins on their faces. Now Esteban is scared. "Give me your money Pedro," one of them demands, brandishing his weapon.

"I am sorry friend, but I was late on payday and didn't get my check. I have no money." Esteban is truly sorry and would have gladly given them any money that he had but alas there is none. The man shoots him and as he falls, they rummage through his empty pockets. Cursing, they leave and as Esteban lay there he feels no pain.

He sits up slowly, and looks down. His stomach is a mess, blood pumps from the wound and Esteban knows he will be dead soon but decides to stand up and look around for a sign that will direct him to a hospital. He wanders around but is not in any pain so Esteban decides to continue heading towards home and the first person he sees, will surely offer assistance. None of the cars stop and most of the people run away from him. Esteban finally notices that they are looking at the swarm of flies around him and aren't paying any attention to the bullet wound. Flies are all over him, biting and laying eggs but somehow he hadn't noticed until now. He quickly realizes that his situation is dire and begins calling for help.

"Help me please! I am dying!" He cries out and a nearby motorist picks up his cell phone. In moments, a siren is heard from afar, growing closer each moment and soon the night is broken by blue flashing lights accompanied by blaring headlamps. Esteban squints and holds up his hands against the light when the voice comes to him.

"Lay on the ground with your hands behind your head!" The voice was spoken over a megaphone and he did as ordered, still feeling no pain. Flashing red lights arrive on the scene and an EMT runs to check on the potentially injured man the policeman has rudely ordered to the ground. The first thing he does is check the pulse and after a pause, the EMT turns and shouts, "He's dead!"

The officer walks over and Esteban looks up with a scared look on his face. "Are you sure?"

"HOLY LIVING HOPPING SCOTCH!" The EMT screams and leaps into the cop's arms. The cop is so surprised that he catches the man and both simply faint. Esteban doesn't think that is a good response and assumes that he is dead. When they wake, he is peacefully laying on his stomach while the flies go at the carcass. "Geez Tom! I must have dreamed while I was out! I could have sworn that dead Mexican just spoke!" The EMT says to the cop, they obviously know each other.

"Yeah Walt, I must have been dreaming too, I thought the same thing. Must be the smell." Tom said, calling in a hearse and a Forensics team. Just what he needs, a crime scene in the middle of the damned street! Actually it is a street that goes over a dam but you get the picture.

"Yeah, it smells like he's been dead for hours!" Walt exclaims. He is of average height and medium build with a distinct goatee and mustache along with a healthy five o'clock shadow. His jet black hair is short cropped and has a slight widow's peak.

"No, I just saw him walking, I told him to get down. I remember that much." Tom said. He is dressed in the dark blue uniform of the Richmond PD with a powerful frame, standing at six feet two inches. His sandy blonde hair is also short cropped but it's spiky and doesn't have any hint of peaking widows. The forensics team arrives and Tom follows Walt out of the scene. Now it is a beautiful red head, with a milky complexion and cherry red lips that dominates the scene.

Esteban wants to apologize for the smell and flies but decides that he will not startle her. She notices him watching her, however, and does a double take. Esteban quickly shuts his eyes. She obviously shakes it off because she does not say anything and goes back to work. Although he can't see her, he hears her and several other people, talking while they work the scene. Esteban wonders why he is still here if he's truly dead. Is there no heaven or hell? Was this what death is like? He grows impatient and finally sits up in exasperation.

"Please, could someone tell me what is going on?" All six members of the Forensics team scream and hold each other like little girls. When Esteban just stares at them, they scream again. "Please. I do not understand what is going on, perhaps I am dreaming." He tells them patiently and again they scream, clinging tighter to each other. "Fine!" and he lays back down. "Americans are so stupid!" He mutters and they scream again.

Soon the bravest approaches and when Esteban just stares at him, he speaks. "Um…well….are you dead?" The man stammers.

"Walt said I am." Esteban tells the shaking man, as if that was all the explanation that was needed.

"You look dead, but um, well….." The man stops and chuckles. "This is weird, like something out of a horror flick, or one of those Stephen what's-his-name novels!" "Horror flick? Stephen who?"

Esteban forgets his situation as he ponders these strange things, he is always curious as well as late. "How is it that you can speak, dead man?" The brave guy asks. He is about the same height as Esteban and completely bald.

"I do not know." Esteban replies truthfully.

Slowly, the rest of the team gathers around Esteban and then, amazingly, they all go back to work. "We see just about everything out here and adjust quickly." The brave guy explains apologetically. He decides to keep the dead Mexican company while the rest of the team does their job; besides, the dead Mexican is his job. "I hate to bring this up, but I must take samples."

"Why? I can speak. It was the thug with the gun. Him and the other thug tried to take my money." Esteban explains. A sketch artist quickly gets an excellent sketch to the beat officers and the two men are quickly apprehended. The beat cops show up to thank the dead man and then the hearse is loaded with his body.

"It's sad that we must bury such a helpful corpse, but gosh the stench," one officer remarks. Powerful pesticides are used to keep the flies at bay while they ponder how to dispose of this unusual corpse.

Again Atropos is returned to her consciousness. The reproachful look of her Lord meets her and she is just barely able to refrain from tears. She notices that a 'stand-in' is now doing her job and this saddens her even more. Is she to be FIRED?! "No, she is merely doing your job while you take your punishment." God remarks, reading her mind. "Do you see the torment? Do you see what you have done to 'The Late One'?"

She wanted to mention that Esteban didn't seem to mind and The Lord scolded her for the thought. Instantly she is returned to 'The Late One's' consciousness.

Esteban is in a cold locker at the morgue waiting for someone to identify the body. It takes seven days, due to the fact that it is not unusual for Esteban to be a week late. When the locker bed is rolled out into the light of the sterile room, the face of his friend, Marco, looms over him. He squints his eyes against the brightness and Marco shrieks. His dead and now blue friend just squinted, which is understandable because due to seven days in darkness, the lights hurts his eyes. Marco's shriek is also understandable. Marco runs from the room screaming about a zombie, with the mortuary attendant in tow, screaming the same thing in English.

"Marco?" Esteban calls out sleepily then rolls his bed back into its locker and closes the door because he is enjoying the quiet. The last seven days had been bliss; he had played in pleasant fields of wild flowers, pursued by scantly clad nymph like women of all shades. He had conquered seven evil magicians and even flew to Uranus but left due to the smell (all in his mind of course). He didn't grow thirsty, cold or hungry because of course, he is dead. He finally has the free time he'd always dreamed about and used this time to hone his imagination.

Marco obviously identified him and a braver attendant came to collect the body, which is marked with a tag to indicate the cemetery it was to rest in. Esteban is happy to know that he will have a nice place to rest for eternity but he is beginning to worry about the whole eternity thing. How long can he daydream before he gets bored? It appears that he will soon find out.

The wake and burial service is closed casket due to his unusual condition. Within a few days he is in the ground and still in daydream bliss amidst his cushioned and quiet coffin. Atropos wanted to say that he seems happy and perhaps further punishment isn't required but it is God who decides when this ends, not her. Months pass and Atropos grows bored long before Esteban but the day finally arrives when he does grow bored.

"Enough!" He shouts, scaring the wits out of Atropos. Angrily he punches, kicks, bites and claws his way to the surface. He looks down, shocked and sees that he is a skeleton of the man he'd been, rotted and falling apart in places, especially the gunshot wound area. It is broad daylight and forty-seven attendees at a neighboring grave's burial service, run screaming. He squints in their direction, slowly letting his eyes adjust to the sun's intensity. "Sorry!" He calls out after them and sadly looks at the mess he's made.

"Why couldn't I stay buried? God will be angry with me now."

Atropos can't take any more, 'No, he is angry with me.' She speaks inside his head and it is Esteban's turn to scream. 'Don't be frightened, I am Atropos, one of the Fates."

"Uh, Fates? That is Mythology." Esteban says.

"Well, yes and no, see, the Romans and Greeks got a few things right when they wrote down all those stories but they didn't hear God's voice properly. He later chose to simplify things and not explain the immortals to the mortals, he called us Angels. It seemed to help but I think you still got a few things wrong." Her voice was ethereal and seemed to come from within. Rather than feeling fear, Esteban becomes intrigued.

"I don't understand." He tells her. Atropos tells him everything she knows about his accident and when she finishes he is a little upset about the whole situation. "So I will not go to heaven?"

"I don't know, I am being punished and I must simply ride this one out." She begins to feel worse with every passing moment. Esteban decides to retreat to the safety of the woods, due to the fact that several of the larger attendees who'd been scared off moments earlier, are now returning. Many of them wielding tire irons or crowbars, all menacingly. Esteban felt it best to avoid any further confusion and makes a hasty retreat.

The woods are peaceful and dappled with filtered light from the sun above. For the first time, Esteban truly reflects on his situation. "Stupid lazy, good for nothing." He curses himself for missing his own death and wants to cry for lack of anything better to do.

The chemicals used in the mortuary are keeping most of the bugs at bay, however he's still rotting. Some forms of bacteria and insect life are immune to all of man's best efforts to eradicate them and besides, nothing can stop decomposition for long. The embalming process was so horrid that Esteban has shut it from his memory and since it is certainly and X-rated scene, I have left that one out.

Slowly, night creeps into the wood and the neighboring cemetery. Darkness brings a lessening in perception of his situation. He can pretend it is time to start walking home. The Late One paces about the wood and admires the nocturnal life that is emerging. The mosquitoes are out, as well as fireflies, all busy doing whatever it is those types of insects do with their free time. Frogs start their chorus, joined by a symphony of cicada and crickets. A fat old gray possum with a long and rat-like tail, waddles by and when Esteban startles it, the possum simply falls over. Esteban is instantly amused and begins to chuckle.

"A living possum that is pretending to be dead, scared of a dead man pretending to be alive. Now that's comedy!" Esteban begins to laugh and soon his pleasant laughter fills the wood and attracts the attention of the caretaker, however, that isn't apparent yet.

"How is it that you can laugh, talk and otherwise operate normally, while your body rots away?' Atropos asks, perplexed.

"I don't know." He answers truthfully. This is a mystery to him as well; one he wishes he could unravel.

"Perhaps it is your spirit that is talking, walking and what-not' She says after a short pause. While they ponder this mystery, Tobias Openutter, the cemetery caretaker enters the wood. He is intent on catching vandals in the act. Lately, vandals have plagued Thomas Dale Cemetery and Toby has been working overtime just to clean the mess. It is something that Toby constantly wished he could put a stop to. The senseless, wicked desecration of the final resting places of those that someone loves is unforgivable.

Often he wishes he could hunt them with his composite bow. That would make his job a lot more interesting. He storms into the clearing and instantly Esteban is bathed in brilliant yellow light from Toby's flashlight. "Alright you kids!" He shouts before his eyes can inform him of the situation, "I know who your parents are and I'm gonna…..HOLY MOTHER OF A RAT'S TURD!"

Toby drops the flashlight and it bounces about for a second, then finally decides on illuminating Esteban's tattered sneakers (since it was a closed casket, the mortuary buried him in his old beat up sneaks and some duds from the lost and found). "I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you." Esteban apologizes with much sorrow in his voice.

"Is that some kind of Halloween costume? You are a bit early for that sort of thing pal." Toby's voice shakes with fear. Esteban goes about his explanation, adding in the parts that Atropos told him. Toby listens intently and when the story is over, he smiles a little. "Sounds like that Fate lady put you in a right pickle."

The Late One smiles an awful smile and laughs a little at his situation because there wasn't much else he could do. The caretaker, it seems, is short on friends and long on free time. His patrols of the grounds in the after hours keep him busy but Esteban is happy to keep the man company while they walked about the perimeter. Toby was pretty much used to dead people and it only took a little adjusting to be able to cope with a talking and walking one.

"Do you think that it is a blessing in disguise?" Toby asks his new zombie friend.

"No, not really. I would surely love to see Heaven." He replies honestly.

"Yes, but suppose you were destined for the other place." The caretaker motions downward with his eyes and makes a grimace face. The man is old and balding with a professor type look that reminds Esteban of that man he had seen as a kid, one of his favorite childhood programs because as a child learning the native language of an unfamiliar country, the program needed little translation.

"I hadn't thought of that one." Esteban replies distantly and with some amount of horror in his voice. "If that was the case, I would certainly guess that this is a blessing in disguise."

"I always say, 'play the hand you are dealt as best you can'. It sometimes helps to think about fluffy clouds while you are at it." Toby set an overturned headstone right and they continued their walk. The night is very pleasant although Esteban has no way of knowing if it is cool or humid or what. He has no temperature sensation and simply enjoyed the peacefulness of the whole thing. Cemeteries have their own special appeal and Esteban is beginning to understand why Toby seems to enjoy his job so much. If you are a recluse (or an undead zombie), a cemetery can really be a pleasant place.

While sitting and discussing politics, Toby drifts off to sleep and Esteban fetches a blanket from the tool shed to cover his new friend (in case it was chilly). Esteban works hard that night and for many nights to follow. When Toby offers to pay Esteban for his services, the zombie declines saying, "Alas friend, what would I do with money?"

"Buy some perfume?" Toby questions playfully and the two men laugh heartily.

At long last Atropos is returned to her consciousness but is saddened that she does not get a chance to bid Esteban farewell. She doesn't feel as bad now that she has seen what kind of life he is in for. Toby is really becoming a true blue friend to The Late One and she thinks that perhaps she has completed the bulk of her punishment. She wants to catch the next episode of her show, even though she knows it is to be the last one televised. God stood before her with a cross look on His face. She trembles, realizing her punishment has just begun.

"For your complete lack of responsibility due to a television program, I am going to hand out the stiffest punishment I can think of." At these words Atropos's heart sinks to the floor. "You are banned from the television for a period of no less than three hundred years."

"THREE HUNDRED YEARS!" She shouts then when she sees God's stern look intensify, she adds. "Wow! I thought you said four hundred! Three hundred would be great! But what about Esteban?"

"That is a horse of a different color." Was the Lord's only reply. The youngest of the fate sisters sulks off to get her MP3 player and put on some music to soothe her agony. Three hundred years! Would they even have television then?! She has no choice but to wait and see. God's judgment is final and no amount of pleading will change things.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, our two odd friends are just settling in for a night of watchfulness. Toby's favorite moments are when Esteban catches a vandal, the two would roll on the ground laughing at the hilarious display of the terror stricken teen, sometimes with a scantily clad teen-ette in tow or simply a gaggle of terror stricken teens. No matter how many there were the resulting exodus was always a joy to watch and after a time the cemetery got a reputation.

Things quieted down substantially and Toby finally had a chance to pursue his interest in Origami. Esteban would often lurk in the night hours while Toby rested or slept, then the two would talk away the morning and Toby would go on his rounds. Esteban decided to sleep in a pleasant crypt during the daylight hours so he wouldn't frighten any of the guests. They really get it down to a regular schedule and both men are much better for their friendship.

As the years pass, Esteban grows more and more skeletal but always retains his sight and hearing as well as the ability to communicate. When Toby dies at the ripe old age of ninety-seven, Esteban is sad, however, the owner of the cemetery allows him to keep the caretaker's cabin and work the night shift. Although the owner is disturbed by Esteban's appearance, he can't turn down free labor, he is, of course, a businessman.

The End