[Guest Writer] A Final Test – Robert C Hartwell

Short Stories By Ahmed Taher |

The beeping turned to alarms, but Jason no longer cared.  He had lived a long life and the pain he was suffering just needed to be over.  As the room filled with nurses and doctors he closed his eyes for the last time and prepared for the hereafter.  He had loved God his whole life and knew he would take his place among the Angels.

He awoke suddenly, sitting on a rock in the middle of a sea of green, a cloudless blue wrapping above him,  sunlight warming his shoulders.  The pain was gone, the splitting in his head, and his mind felt clear for the first time in years.  Stretching his muscles with no pain was a gift.  Surely this was Heaven. Standing and dropping into a sprinter’s crouch, like in the old days in high school, he prepared to run free when he saw he wasn’t alone.

The first being was radiant.  Clad all in white with flowing blonde hair, her body was perfection, causing a burning in his loins like he hadn’t had in 50 years.  She was impossibly tall and proportioned exactly as he preferred, thin waist and wide hips.  She smiled radiantly, holding forth her hand for him to grasp.  Surely, this was an Angel sent to bring the Pearly Gates.

The other was a withered old woman, bent with age, and covered in red blotches.  Her sunken eyes were rimmed red and crusted over.  Her dress was also white, or used to be, and was lined with fine lace, now tattered. The garment had yellowed with age, ancient as she was.  She stared at him, then went back to her task.  Her arthritic limbs stretched to grab a purse on the ground, large and black and were unable to grasp it.

He felt for the old woman and moved to help her, when a melodious voice called out “Come with me” He turned to see the young lady reaching out, eyes filled with deep longing.  Surely the Angel could wait until he helped this person.

The crone looked up and said in a gravelly voice “Ye can only choose one.  The other will be gone the second you touch the other”  She pierced his soul with an icy glare that curdled in his chest.

He looked back and forth between the Angel and the Crone.  Should he help the ancient woman, or ascend to Heaven?  Comfort poured from the Angel, pulling his soul with its beauty.  The crone was repulsive as he had been in life, and she obviously needed help.  Her presence seemed profane somehow, unclean.

The choice should be simple.  He wanted the afterlife he had earned through years of service, but could he let an old woman struggle as he had in life?  Surely the old woman would reach her bag without him he thought.  The more he struggled with it the more he decided all this was a distraction to keep him from achieving eternal peace.

He nodded and walked determinedly to the beautiful Angel, grasping her hand.  He had expected a gentle, warm touch.  Instead, a fevered burning ripped up his arm and her perfect nails tore into his flesh.  He looked up in shock to see Angel’s face distorted into a rictus, sharp fangs and glistening gums shining crimson from the unholy light in her eyes.  He tried to escape but found himself crushed in her grasp.  He felt his age return, the pains he had thought left behind returned with no morphine to ease his sorrows.  Suddenly the ground beneath his feet was gone, and a sickly green haze enwrapped him like a shroud.  As he fell he screamed, but the sound cut off as the land shut above him.

The Angel and Crone reappeared in the field, waiting for their next soul. “That one had promise, I thought with all his good works on Earth he would choose charity over self-interest.”  Her cracked tone replaced with a thousand cherubic voices and her rheumy eyes glowed brilliant yellow.

The Demon shrugged, her distended face slowly sliding back to her Angelic appearance. “I’m not surprised.  True charity is so rare these days.  How many priests and holy men have lost the test?”

The old lady nodded sadly, the glow leaving her horrid eyes and they waited, as a shining form began to coalesce on the rock.


My name is Robert C Hartwell am a writer living in Northeastern Vermont in the US.  I have been writing on and off since high school, and recently decided to try to move into writing in a more professional manner.  I have two kids, both of whom enjoy writing, that I spend weekends with.

My site, http://robertchartwell.com, is a place where I post stories, usually about magic and often quite dark.  They tend to be on the longish side, but when I write I like to tell a story completely, no matter how long it takes me.   I vary in settings from high fantasy to Victorian England, where my favorite character Mistress Bitten lives.   I try to post a story each week, some are serials, while others are stand alone. The purpose of my site is to share stories for the enjoyment of any who care to read it.  While I am working on larger pieces I enjoy being able to give stories to readers and see how they react

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