The Ledger Angel

by Bruce Holland Rogers

Trust me on this. I have it on good authority that there is only one angel who reads the ledger. Scores of angels contribute to the book, writing into it simultaneously much faster than the speed of thought. But only one angel reads it. He reads it even as the pages are written.

I don't pretend to know how this is possible: Angels write into the book every deed, every intention behind the deed, and every consequence following the deed, and even as they write, the Ledger Angel reads and calculates.

The Ledger Angel's forehead is broad and unwrinkled. He is adding and subtracting, assessing and calculating. Some of the calculations are simple enough. You stopped on the highway to help the stranger whose tire had gone flat. Addition. Some are a little more complex. You returned the stolen wallet you found — addition — but first helped yourself to the cash — subtraction. But these first-order deeds are just the start. Thanks to your help, the stranger whose tire you changed arrived home in time to discover his wife in bed with another man, and he shot them both and then turned the gun on himself. That's a subtraction on his account, but some percentage of the debit accrues to you.

This hardly seems fair. You didn't intend such consequences. But I have it on good authority that outcomes matter as much as intentions. And not just outcomes, but the consequences of outcomes, and the consequences of those.

Usually, of course, the transactions are small. You talked to that store clerk who seemed troubled. Your kindness changed the direction of his day, and he passed your kindness along. Kindness multiplied. Or you were cross with the lady on the bus and told her that she was wearing too much perfume, and the journey of every passenger was altered, just a little, by your raised voice. Every one of these passengers now contributed, by their deeds, to some small portion of your tally.

The Ledger Angel is too busy calculating to ever speak.

I have it on good authority that heaven and hell are empty. None of the dead have passed into either place yet, but are waiting. Not even the Ledger Angel, who carries in his head a changing number for every soul, can say what the final score will be for each one. As long as the world lasts, the decimals keep moving even for men and women ten thousand years dead.

I'm telling you the truth. Or if not, please credit me, at least, with good intentions.

 


Bruce Holland Rogers lives in London. His fourth collection of short stories, The Keyhole Opera, won the World Fantasy Award for 2006. Additional stories can be found at www.shortshortshort.com. His story, "Witness," appeared in Issue 12 of The Cafe Irreal ; and his story "Good Neighbors" appeared in Issue 22.