Monday, June 22, 2009

First Short - "Afterlife"

Here's today's story. It was prompted by a challenge on a yahoo group I belong to to write something about Ghosts. Enjoy.

The actual moment of my death was not near as traumatic, scary or exciting as the movies make it out to be. One moment I was eating an ice cream cone, flipping off the taxi driver who almost hit me, and the next I was floating in the air above my body and the taxi that actually DID hit me. I only had a second to ponder the fact that the driver was angrier at having damaged his car than having killed me; a tunnel of light opened in front of me and I was sucked right in.

(As an aside, "tunnel of light" is really a misnomer. In actuality, the tunnel of light is really a giant vacuum tube. I wasn't kidding when I said I was sucked in.)

I was pulled along at a steady pace. Time kind of lost it's meaning during the trip. You don't sleep as a ghost, but if you could I'm sure I would have been drooling steadily when I finally arrived at the end of the tube. I settled down on a large platform. A man with was standing there looking bored out of his mind.

"Hi," I began, but he interrupted me by pointing at a sign on the wall behind him. It read "NO TALKING DURING JUDGMENT." Well that was rude. Why would talking be outlawed during...Judgment?!?

The man flipped a large lever and a digital readout on a screen near the lever began flashing different scenarios, each with a date. The platform I was standing on tilted a bit as each scenario registered - sometimes to the left and sometimes to the right. A gauge near the readout contained a needle that swung back and forth across a black dividing line in concert with the moving platform. The left side of the gauge read "Hell." The right side said "Heaven."

"Said thank you." A small tip to the right.
"Pulled sister's hair." Back to the left.
"Shared lunch with a friend." To the right.
"Stole $20 to buy pirated DVDs." Farther to the left.

O.M.G. These were scenes from my life. Judgment was a balancing of all the good things I had done against all the bad? LITERALLY? This was not good. (Pun emphatically not intended.)

On one tip to the right I caught the faint sounds of choir music coming from that direction. On a massive move to the left I felt an intense heat and smelled the noxious scent of sulfur. Gulp.

As the dates on the screen closed on the date of my death, the platform acquired a definite left-side tilt. Oh, crap. I know I wasn't a saint, but surely I had done more good things than bad. A thought occurred to me. I had one thing that could save me. One act that might tip the balance in my favor. It was the last thing I had done today before my untimely demise. My niece had died of leukemia a few years back, and a radio marathon's offer to match any donations had finally convinced me it was time to give. I admit, it was out of character, but hey, I did it, right? It finally arrived on the screen.

"Donated $1000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital." A large tip to the right, just past the black line. Yes! I had made it. Heavenly choirs here I come!

"Flipped off taxi cab driver." Minute adjustment to the left.

No. Way.

The needle of the gauge rested solidly on the black line.

"Um," I said.

The man didn't answer. Instead, he pushed a red button that had seemingly appeared from nowhere, and the floor dropped out from under me. I fell...

....and landed on a high backed wooden chair. In front of me was a pristine white desk, complete with a moderately attractive woman and a very sleek looking computer.

"Hello Mr. Porter, "she said ominously. "Welcome to Purgatory."


"That's what I said, Mr. Porter. Purgatory."

"Hm," I said. "It's an office. I thought people who went to Purgatory just suffered for awhile, then got moved on to heaven."

She smiled a mysterious smile. "If you mean suffer in the sense of Dante's 'Divine Comedy,' you're mistaken. And not all those who leave here actually go to heaven."

I shook my head. "I don't understand."

"We got a bit off script. Let's start at the beginning, shall we." She sat up straight and read from the computer screen. "Ahem. Welcome to Purgatory."

"You said that."

She ignored me. "You are here because your life ended in complete balance. You have been equally bad and good. You cannot yet be consigned to hell or rewarded with heaven."

"So where does that leave me?"

"I'm getting to that. Because you were unwilling to commit in life to either good or bad, you will be given the opportunity to tip the scales."

"Do I get to go back to Earth?"

"Will you please let me finish?"


"Thank you. Where was I....oh, yes. Each Purgatorian is assigned a job. Assignment to heaven or hell will be based on a job performance review at the conclusion of the prescribed assignment period."

"That's a lot of assigning."

She glared at me.

"Look, I don't mean to be rude, but this is all kind of over my head. Can you just break it down?"

She sighed. "All right. It's like this. The system doesn't run itself. Most of it is run by Purgatorians."

"I thought God ran everything."

"God runs Heaven. Satan runs Hell. Everything else, though? Purgatorians. A long time ago God and Satan decided the whole balance thing was the easiest way to manage things. Those who chose God would get to live with him. Those who chose Satan, with him. The only hang up was those whose lives evened out. Those who balanced perfectly get an assignment in Purgatory. You perform the assignment well, you go to heaven. You do poorly, you get hell. This way God can focus on the heavenly, Satan can focus on the demonic, and us mundane ones in the middle handle everything else."

"Wait a minute. You're saying the stuff that happens on earth, that's all overseen by dead people?"

"Not just any dead people," she corrected, "Purgatorians. Sometimes God or Satan takes a direct hand, but for the most part, earthly matters are managed by people who have died in balance."

"What about the weather?"


"How about spiritual things like the Burning Bush?"


"The black death?"



"The purple dinosaur? No, Satan took a hand in that one himself."

I was struck dumb by the enormity of what I was hearing. (It wasn't too hard. I wasn't that smart to begin with.)

"So," I said once the shock had begun to wear off, "Do I get to pick my assignment?"

"Well, you do have a choice, but it's limited to what's currently available. As people finish their assignments and move on we get openings."

"What do you have now?"

"What do you have in mind? Pick a category." She turned the monitor my direction and I scrolled down the list. It was enormous, but fortunately alphabetical. I checked quickly - yup, there was Weather Management.

"What do you have in Weather Management?"

"Lightning Thrower."

"Really, that's awesome! I'll take it."

"Don't you want to know the details first?"

"Like what?"

"Most people want to know the term of service. Each job's term is different."

"What's the term on this one?"

"Fifty years."

"Fifty years? You've got to be kidding me. Don't you have anything shorter?"


"What's the shortest?"

"Five years, but let me be honest, Mr. Porter. The shorter term jobs are more difficult. They often involve something very complex that require a specialized skill set - liking designing new flu strains. The guy that engineered the 1918 Spanish flu virus made heaven easy. The one who worked on Swine Flu...not doing so hot."

"What does your job rate?"

"Twenty five years."

"Ugh. There's got to be something I'd be good at that won't involve a quarter century of drudgery."

She glared at me again.

"Oh. Sorry."

She sighed. "Let's see what we can find."

It took awhile, but in the end I found something perfect.


Well, it was time. I made a slight adjustment to the nifty device that let me interact with the physical world, and then made my move.

I timed my arrival to the front of the store to coincide with a woman opening the door. She paused, holding the door open for me, her mouth open in surprise. As I walked through the door, I pulled my sunglasses down slightly, my fingers brushing lightly against my mutton chop sideburns.

"Thank you," I said. "Thank you very much."

I sauntered out the door and headed around the side of the building. I could hear the woman behind me, hissing at the clerk.

"Did you see who that was? I can't believe it."

I chuckled as I left their view, and then faded from sight. I didn't want to be late. I had an appointment in Graceland.

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