Written for Write at the Merge. A story about the cost of practical jokes begins after the photo.
THE LAST PRACTICAL JOKE
The woman was stunning, though her pupilless grey eyes were unsettling. Another clue that Dorian was no longer among the living. "I am Angelique, Mr. Duncan," she said, settling down into a white chair behind a white desk. "Welcome to Purgatory."
Dorian cringed at those words. The last thing he remembered was the semi-truck as it ran the red light. He had instant of terror before it all went black.
The successful producer and MC of the TV series, "Oh No You Didn't!" Dorian enjoyed unparalleled success. His practical jokes on unsuspecting people were incredibly creative. The show's ratings were off the chart. The last practical joke had filled him with regret, though. He'd convinced a man that his wife was having an affair with porn star, Brian Pumper. The man's heart had stopped by the time his film crew arrived. Luckily, a crew member knew CPR and they revived him in time. Dorian had been rethinking their procedures when the accident happened.
"Not Heaven? It was that last practical joke, wasn't it?"
Angelique chuckled. "Relax, Mr. Duncan. Though your acts warrant your placement in Purgatory, the Good Lord does appreciate a good joke. For this reason, The Almighty has waived the usual trials. Instead, you'll serve on our staff for about a month." She ushered him out of the office and into a white hallway.
"Uh, first of all. Are you an Angel?"
"Of course! Who else should administer Purgatory?"
Dorian shrugged. "Could be worse. Okay, what will I do?"
"Well, you have a very inventive mind. You'll assume the position of Tester Prime. You will be imagining the trials and punishments for everyone entering Purgatory. We've become boring and unimpressive over the centuries. We want your creativity to develop new procedures for preparing souls entering into Heaven."
They passed two angels holding a man between them. His eyes were rolling and drool dripped off his chin.
"What happened to him?" asked Dorian.
"Tester Prime from last year. The job can be stressful sometimes, inventing all those creative punishments. He just wasn't up to the challenge."
Dorian felt a little better. Coming up with one elaborate practical joke each week was hectic, but he could handle the pace.
They passed another escorted man who appeared catatonic.
"What about him?"
"Your replacing him," she said.
"How long was he on the job?"
She consulted her watch. "About 27 hours."
"Ah, now wait "
She brought him to a room filled with tens of thousands of people. "You'll be assigning punishments to all of them."
"That's a lot!"
"Oh, it's not so bad. There will be fewer in the next hour."
"I've changed my mind. I don't want to do this!"
"You've no choice, Mr. Duncan. This is Purgatory."
"Wait! No!" screamed Dorian as angels pulled him away kicking and screaming.
Another angel joined Angelique. "Nice work."
"When will you tell him?
"He'll enter Heaven in hours. I'll let him in on our practical joke before then."
Write at the Merge offers a writing prompt each week for up to 500 words. This week, we wanted to explore the concept of Purgatory. Here's the original prompt for the week: