The Dead: Book 3 (Frag. 5)

The Book of the Story

RALPHY FELT THE HEAT of the creature's sulfurous breath, and he thought he could hear the judge's screams coming from the lake of fire in the belly of the beast.

Then the dog-man turned to him.

"And you," the dog-man said. "You have no jar of your own?"

Ralphy shook his head.

"I didn't know I was supposed to."

The dog-man chuckled at that. He scooped the judge's heart from the scales and tossed it casually to the beast, who snatched it from the air in a single gulp. A servant hurried up to polish the tray, while another approached with a scroll.

The dog-man opened the scroll, and read.

After a while he looked up, amused.

"A piano?"

Ralphy nodded.

The dog-man shook his head, and went back to the scroll.

Ralphy hadn't felt this way since he was in school—waiting in the principal's office.

After a while, the dog-man grunted and put the scroll away.

"Have you anything to say for yourself?"

Ralphy couldn't look up. Instead he studied the pattern the stones made in the pavement.

"I—that is, I guess... Well, the thing is, about the pot—the marijuana, I mean—well, it really was for my aunt. She's sick, and her doctor—well, it's the only thing that helps.  And I suppose you know about the stealing. It was only a few times, and only because I was really desperate. And I always only took from people who had a lot more than I did—I would never steal from a poor person. I made sure of that."

The dog-man shook his head.

"Well, luckily for you, we'll be weighing your heart—not your brains."

He stepped forward suddenly, and stuck his hand into Ralphy's chest. There was a slight tickling sensation, and a second later he held a living, pumping heart.

He placed it on the scale.

The scale settled for a moment, as it had with the judge's heart. But then it rose again.

Ralphy stared, afraid to smile.

The dog-man lifted the heart from the scale, and returned it to Ralphy's chest. Then he held out the scroll.

"Take this through that door, and you'll be assigned to your place in the pantheon."

"The pantheon?"

"You're to be one of the gods."

"Me?"

The dog-man nodded.

Ralphy took the scroll, and turned toward the door.

"And Ralphy?" the dog-man said, behind him.

Ralphy stopped and turned. The dog-man's lips curled in a canine smile, and he raised a single eyebrow.

"A piano?"

And, just for a moment, Ralphy could have sworn he was looking at Wily Coyote.