The following is a short story written for Jeff's Fort. They are currently running a contest in which
writers were to imagine what it would be like if Death took a day off. This was my submission. I
encourage you to go to their site and read all the stories, then vote for your favorite.
Cruentus stood before the gaping hole that had been unearthed for him to arise from the gates of
Infernus. Diabolus had released him, like he had a hundred years ago, and a hundred years before
that, to go out into the world and find one soul that could be saved. This centennial event was
referred to as The Electus.
Cruentus was death, pure and simple. His name represented blood. It was he who reigned over
wars, pestilence and famine. He took delight in causing pain and suffering to his victims. He
absorbed their unfortunate demise, and he gained strength from their dying screams and agonizing
The Electus was a dreaded mission for him. Thousands of years ago, Diabolus had ordered him to
find one person who was worthy of redemption. He had twenty four hours to find that one person
who could be saved from the damnation of Infernus. One fortunate thing that occurred during his
quest was, that for one day, he would not reign over death. No one would succumb during that
Diabolus prided himself on the fact that all mortals sinned and fell short of the gates of Caelum.
When he took his throne in Infernus, he met with Dios, God of Caelum, and agreed to permit one
soul to be redeemed and spend eternity in the world above. However, according to the
arrangement, only one mortal would be spared once a century. Dios would not interfere in the
Electus, and he promised to keep authority over his ambassadors of good during the selection time.
If Cruentus failed, then he would lose his position on the right side of Diabolus. He would be
banished forever to live as a mortal until Death would finally stalk him and render him nothing more
than another agonizing figure burning in the fires of Infernus. For centuries then, he had tirelessly
spent the twenty-four hour period finding a worthy person.
Fortune had always been with him. There were always the innocents, untouched by the evils around
them. Cruentus searched the remote regions of the world, looking for those who lived a life of
solitude in quiet contemplation.
For centuries, his search had not taken more than a few hours. There were the monks who lived in
foreign missions, untouched by the sins of the world. However, for the past few centuries even
they were becoming influenced by the evils of man, and they were beginning to participate in worldly
The past two hundred years had been challenging. In his last search, he was only saved by a
woman in an isolated part of the world who had been lost as a child and never again encountered
Now standing on the outside of Infernus, he pondered how he could best accomplish his mission.
With the technology that existed in the modern world, it would make his task more difficult. The
vast expanses had been brought together by satellites, television, mass communication and
computer technology. Finding someone who had not been exposed to worldly temptation would be
difficult, if not impossible.
He looked down at the hourglass given him by Diabolus. Sand began to descend as soon as he
took his first earthly breath. It now covered the bottom, reminding him that he had to work quickly.
With the blink of an eye, he found himself inside a monastery in a remote place in Rome. He had
been fortunate on two occasions to have found benefactors of Diabolus’s good grace. As he looked
around, things had changed. No longer were the brothers dressed in religious garb. They weren’t
sequestered in a solitary chamber chanting hymns and translating biblical quotes.
Instead, they roamed freely amongst other mortals. There was a small market where they sold their
vegetables and fruits at exorbitant prices. As he stood and watched, he noticed one monk cheat a
naive buyer of some small change. The more he observed, the more he became aware that all the
brothers were in some way being influenced by the world. They laughed and cajoled with others,
and often used the common language of those with whom they were talking. What had happened
to the Latin he had grown so accustomed to over the centuries? It was as if it had been forgotten.
In disgust, Cruentus closed his eyes and imagined himself in another part of the world.
He opened them and found himself in a small chapel on the shores of a small English channel. He
looked down at the hourglass and noticed that a sizeable amount of sand had fallen. He guessed
that he must have lost about two hours of time.
He took a seat in the back of the chapel and watched as people came in and genuflected. He
observed about twenty people enter and he searched their hearts. All were sinners. Some had
committed severe crimes to humanity, while others were guilty of lesser sins, like avarice and lust.
His hopes were raised when an elderly woman entered wearing a veil over her face. Others treated
her respectfully, taking her arm and helping her gently to her seat. For a brief moment, he felt he
had found his selected one. But then he watched as a small girl, dressed rather shabbily, held out
her hand for alms. The old woman pushed the small girl away and admonished her for approaching.
He looked down at the hourglass and saw the sand quickly disappearing away. He had already spent
too much time looking in places of past successes. This time the search would be more difficult to
Cruentus shook his head and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he found himself in the office
of one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. Surely, a man who gave away much of his acquired
wealth would have to have a good heart. But a quick look inside found it to be dark and cold.
The old man was not concerned with helping others. He was merely trying to create a legacy that
would live on after his death. He was consumed with guilt from swindling poor people out of billions
so that he could enjoy the luxuries of the world. Now in his old age, he wanted to change the cruel
reputation he had earned. By giving away his fortune, he hoped that history would be more kind to
Cruentus closed his eyes again. He hoped that when he opened them, he’d be facing the selected
one. This time he opened them to a remote hospital in a mountainous area. He looked around and
saw nurses in tattered white uniforms helping people who were suffering from terminal diseases.
They rushed around, tending the sick and ministering to the dying.
Normally, he would have found this an amusing sight. It was, after all, his own hand that had
created this gruesome scene, but now he worried if anyone existed that could save his own position
below. He walked around unnoticed, observing these kind tenders of the sick. Many came close to
being selected, but all fell short of his expectations. One prospect had stolen medicine and sold it
on the streets to the highest bidder.
Another had engaged in adultery for several years, making her unworthy. It was unfortunate,
because her heart was filled with much love for those she cared for. Had it not been for this one
transgression, she would have surely been the selected one.
When Cruentus looked down, the sand in the hourglass was half gone. He had wasted a half day
visiting places he was sure he would find someone worthy of redemption, but worldly vices had
tainted those who in the past had been most worthy.
Panic began to consume him. Was there anyone in the world who had not been tempted by the
ways of the world? He closed his eyes and visited several more destinations, but the results were
the same. Greed, lust, hatred and envy filled the hearts of those he encountered.
He remembered the story of Diogenes who spent his life searching unsuccessfully for an honest
man. Even though it was fiction, he was afraid his search would have the same unfortunate results.
Cruentus began to desperately travel from city to city, village to village, and through every desolate
and remote spot on earth he could find. He kept looking at the hourglass, watching the grains of
sand. There was little time left, for only another hour remained.
He knew that if the finally grain fell, then he would become human and have to endure the life of a
mortal being. Through his desperate search, he realized he could never endure the world that he
had spent the past twenty three hours witnessing.
He knew that Infernus was filled with sin, but one thing set it apart from the mortal world. There
were no masks. Everyone was exposed to their sins. They didn’t hide behind facades of deceit.
On earth he saw respected men during the day, lying in debauchery with tainted women at night.
He witnessed loving mothers turning aside their children because they didn’t conform to their ideals.
He saw the hatred and violence caused by religion and race. War and conflict existed throughout
the world. Greed for money consumed almost everyone.
And he could not find one person who had not been affected.
He placed his head in his hands and began to prepare himself for his final demise. After centuries of
success, the world had now become a more bitter place. It occurred to him that he had been
partially responsible. As Death, he had hardened people’s hearts. The wars, pestilence and disease
he had brought to others, had made them complacent about death.
People no longer sought goodness. There was no reward. People only achieved success and fortune
by lies and deceit. Even today, people in remote areas were only concerned with how much wealth
they could achieve. After all, what was the difference of owning five goats or acquiring millions of
dollars? It was just a matter of where you lived.
“Are you alright, Mister?”
Cruentus opened his eyes and peered at the small black boy before him. He looked around, trying
to figure out where he might be. He had visited so many destinations in his desperation; he no
longer knew where he was. The area was hot and dry. The air smelled of the familiar stench of
The boy was dirty and dressed in only a pair of shorts, two sizes too small for his little body. He
appeared to be about nine years old.
“Would you like some of my apple?” He held out his small hand and offered Cruentus a half eaten
“Who are you?” Cruentus asked.
“Purio,” responded the small boy.
“Where do you live?” Cruentus asked. “Where are we?”
“Darfur,” he said.
Cruentus immediately knew where he was. He had brought so much suffering to the area over the
past few years. He was proud of the accomplishments he had made by bringing violence and
disease to hundreds of thousands of suffering souls.
He peered into the angelic face of the boy before him. This child had never experienced sin. His
heart was pure. Even though he had lost his family, and had wandered aimlessly for months, he
didn’t feel hatred or revenge. He only had one desire- survival. He was trying to find a place where
he could once again be safe. Cruentus knew that probably within a few years the innocent boy
before him would be murdered by marauding militants who plundered the villages.
And here he was, his body so thin that Cruentus could easily count the ribs in his chest, offering
the last bite of his apple to a complete stranger.
Cruentus reached out with one hand and took the apple and bit into it. With his other hand, he
grabbed the boy and held him tightly. He looked down at the hourglass and saw the last grain of
sand disappear, as did the boy he was holding.