|Death Of Rats by Paul Kidby|
Then I thought, does it have to be bleak? Can I make a story where death is a main element, the raisin dental of the story, but not be depressing about it? It's worth a go anyway, so keep reading to see my entry, coming in at 999 words. (It was very hard not to write my own ode to the Death of Rats, of Discworld fame. I love the Death of Rats. With his little scythe and his little cloak.)
Death Duty - Apply Within
Some people think that dying is the worst thing that will ever happen to them. It isn't; filling in your forms so your spirit goes to the right place is the worst thing that can ever happen to anyone. I should know. I do it for a living. I'm an "Afterlife Co-Ordinator".
You see, there isn't a natural ascendance into heavenly space - death is complicated. Everyone has to be checked and assessed, before being assigned to their next life. Oh, did I not mention that? Yeah, you gotta do the whole thing again. And again. Once more around the merry go round. But next time you might be a cockroach, if you didn't behave yourself in your mortal coil. There's rumours of a next level, a higher state, but I've never seen it or known anyone to vanish into it. Likely a ruse to keep us keen.
It's a pretty dull job most of the time. The netherworld isn't the most glamorous (no nightclubs, no restaurants, no night for that matter) and those of us assigned this "honour" have to do it every day, hour after hour. It's not even as if we can simply stamp the form and send the floating essence on its way. Oh no, we have to interview them too, work out what their perspective is. Not everyone, just the "edge cases", the people who did some pretty bad things but may have had a reason, or seemed to accidentally do good things. Personally I envy those who only handle small furry mammals, or fish. How easy must that be? Oh, you were a fish? You bobbed about in the ocean until a bigger fish ate you? Let me stamp that form for you. Jeesh... some people don't even know how good their afterlife is.
I've been here for... well a long time. I can't honestly remember anymore. And, even though my head hurts at the thought of work, when I'm processing the latest form I always try to remember that the spirit before me is still getting used to this. Most are surprised they get to go back. And even more surprised when they find out they get to go back as a lion. Or a polar bear. Or an ant. That happens to more people then you might think, but then a lot more insects get to go back as humans then you might expect too.
I was starting another day, tidying my desk, when in came my first essence of the morning. I don't like to think of them as spirits; too spooky. But this one was different. It had a glow about it as it hovered between the filing cabinet and the Palm plant in the pink pot. Most of them have at least some features, the residue of the person they were, but this one had no face, no arms, nothing. Just a big glob of faintly glowing white-blueish mist. Then it spoke.
Short and to the point. I liked it already. I opened my drawer to pull out it's file, which normally materialise out of no where in there, as you need them. Oh, how I wish they would magically file themselves, but alas. This time though, there was no file. So I looked in my inbox tray. Nothing. I looked through the papers on my desk. Nothing. I began to feel a dread come over me. I'd lost a bloody essence's file. That's never happened before. I'd never even heard of it happening before. If I could have, I would have been sweating by now, but as it was I tried to act calmly in front of the client and looked through the filing cabinet. It floated over my shoulder, watching my movements as I again failed to find its file. I had to stall.
"So, where are you from?"
The essence bobbed up and down a couple of times, its confusion obvious, before it responded. "I remember a boat?"
"Really? A boat?" I asked, rummaging under my desk now in desperation, "so were you a fisher... man?"
Again the shape was silent for a time, giving me a moment to curse under my breathe when the damned file still hadn't materialised in any place I could think of. Then it glowed a little brighter and said, "I was told to come here."
None of them had ever said that before. I looked at it puzzled for a moment before asking what it meant.
"I... yes, it's coming back to me. I went to another office before this. They were very nice. They said I was to come and relieve you. That you're free to go."
For a moment I was the one who hung there, silently. With a shake of my head I gave a nervous laugh and answered, "That can't be right. There is no where to go. This is my job."
The globule moved about on the spot, like a dog shaking itself.
"No, there's another place above this one. They said, you just need to go up the stairs and turn to the right. And to not worry. I'll be taking over and will be fully trained on the job, just like you were."
I honestly felt like I was going to be sick, which considering I don't technically have a stomach anymore, is impressive. I walked to the door and opened it. There, despite never being there before, was a staircase, leading upwards, with a blazing glow at the top of it. I turned to the essence, which was beginning to take on the shape of a woman.
"Thank you. I think."
"Not a problem. Apparently you've been very good at what you do here. I hope I get to join you one day," she said.
"Yeah." I couldn't think of anything else to say. I turned to those stairs, which had a golden hue to them and took a step towards the light and a totally unexpected future.