Richard Hellman In Purgatory (Short Story)

Richard Hellman in purgatory
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.


Why me? Richard Hellman thought as his mother Margot glared at him.  The eyes of Richard’s younger brother Monty were on him too.

“You were doing really great in October and November,” Margot said, “and then December came along and you made no money.”

Richard blanched.

Margot sighed.  “What?”

“That was because of the holidays,” he mumbled.

An annoyed looked creased Margot’s face.  “What?”

“I said that was because of the holidays!” Richard shouted.

“Calm down! We are just trying to talk to you,” Monty said.

Margot sighed, closed her eyes. “Will you please stop acting like you are being picked on?”

Richard’s ears pricked at the sour tone in Margot’s voice, felt a feeling akin to a piece of lead float into his stomach.

“I know… I know I am not being picked on,” he replied. I rue the day I decided to become a freelancer, he silently added.

Richard Hellman, former Cub Foods store associate-turned freelance writer/editor, had had a splendid two months in October and November of 2013, starting when he made $1000 the first week in October alone, when he won three gigs that had paid him $333 each.  He had wrapped up the month with a grand total of $2,100.  He topped that figure by making $2,200 in November.

Then December came, and with it, a work drought.  Now it was the last week of January, 2014, and Richard’s family had less than $100 in the bank.  To make matters worse, Richard owed a client $200 and was making threats about filing a PayPal complaint against him.

Why me? he thought again.

“What?” Margot asked; her expression still stern.

Shit, this is like when we were arguing with my fucking father, whispered an inner voice in the back of Richard’s mind.  He saw himself back at the dining room table they always gathered to argue with Paul Hellman, the abusive, neglectful husband and father that tormented his brood without pity.  They would verbally joust, joust, and joust until Margot, Richard, and Monty gave in and Paul had his way yet again.

Shit, shit, shit… I’ve become Paul, Richard thought.

“What?” Margot asked again.

“I’ve… I’m…” Richard stammered.

“Spit it out!” Margot snapped.

Richard’s nascent words tumbled back down his throat.

I don’t like feeling this way, he thought, feeling a pang of bitterness.

He felt like a caged animal surrounded by people poking him with sticks.

“You know we can’t keep going through this,” Margot finally said.  Her expression was stern, her eyes piercing through her eldest son like lasers.

“Wholesome Eats is always hiring,” Monty said.  “I could use my influence to help you get a job there.”

Wholesome Eats?! Richard thought.

“I don’t… I don’t want to work where you do, bro,” Richard replied.

Monty slapped his palm on the table. “I don’t want you to either, but we have to have steady income coming in!  My paycheck can’t cover all the bills.”

“I know, I know!” Richard shouted back.

His head swam, his stomach burned like he had eaten a lousy breakfast.  He suddenly felt like he was a soldier engulfed by chaos in the midst of a catastrophic defeat worthy of Isandlwana, Little Big Horn, Dien Bien Phu, Chosin Reservoir, or Bull Run.

Richard put his face in his hands.

Everything I have tried to build is collapsing. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Speak up for yourself!

I can’t, they have me dead to rights.

“Are you going to get a job?” Margot asked.

Richard wanted to drag himself into his room, slam the door shut, flop down on his bed, and die.   He had gotten jobs once with a willing heart back when he, Monty, and Margot were stuck in a hotel after Paul had abandoned his now homeless tortured brood and fled the state.  Richard had again flung himself into the gap by getting a job at Cub Foods when his first job as a warehouse associate for Office Max, had slashed his hours to the bone.  But then Cub had frozen his wages, and webbed him about with all kinds of rules that Richard’s independent spirit chafed against.  The result was a long list of disciplinary actions which had climaxed with Richard forced to either quit or be terminated.   The day he typed up his resignation letter haunted him still.

Fortunately, Margot had won a small lottery drawing a month before Richard sank himself. She had given Richard permission to pursue his dream of making a living as a freelancer.  But Richard had been easily discouraged by initial setbacks, including two scam attempts that had slammed into him when he’d applied for writing and editing-related gigs via Craigslist.

Why the fuck did I not get going sooner? he thought as he lowered his hands from his face.

He forced his eyes to focus on his mother. “I…”

Margot’s eyes bore into him like lasers.  He froze.

“Yes?” Margot asked.

“I—I have a job.”

“But it isn’t bringing in consistent work!” Monty shouted.

Richard’s face became a blank mask as inner turmoil exploded and engulfed his mind, pulling him away from the table and into the darkest recesses of his soul.  His inner agony sent him rebounding off feelings of angst, lack of self-worth, lack of self-esteem.  All the while he just sat there, his brown eyes void of any emotion as Monty and Margot glared at him.

Stop!  Stop!  he finally shouted at himself as he sought to get centered within his soul.  If I keep rolling with this shit, I’m no better than Paul.

He held up a hand in a call for silence, and closed his eyes. I rebuke this bad luck from continuing, I rebuke my bad luck streak from continuing any further, he chanted in a silent mantra over and over inside his head.

An intuition sparked inside his soul, one what whispered People want to hire you, Richard Hellman.

He opened his eyes, looked over at his brother.  “Monty?”


“Check my e-mail.”

“What for?”

“Just do it, all right?”

Margot sighed.  “What are you doing?”

“Dammit!  I got an intuition telling me I just hit pay dirt thanks to some advertising I recently put out,”  Richard replied.

Margot fell silent.  Monty opened Richard’s e-mail.  “Hey, you’ve got e-mails from three people here,” he said, his mood lightening.

“Really?  Let me see,” Richard said, rising to his feet.

Three potential clients were indeed there; potential clients that had become Richard’s clientss by the end of the day. Clients that wound up paying Richard $300 each for editing/proofreading work. Richard’s earnings came to a grand total of $900—more than enough to help out with his share of the rent and bills.

“We’re sorry we doubted you,” Margot apologized to him at dinner that night.  “Yes, we are very sorry,“ Monty added.

Richard smiled.  “Many thanks for keeping the faith in me, gang,” he said, toasting them with his bottle of pop.

(Originally published on as a serial short story experiment January-March, 2014.)