The Business of Death

April 11, 2012
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I must be in hell because this room looks remarkably like the DMV. I assume that this is my mind-- or whatever I have now that acts like my mind used to— trying to grasp the incomprehensible through a metaphor. And it’s convincing to the point where the fact I know I’ve just died isn’t enough to entertain me for the immeasurable amount of time before me. I must still be in shock. Can dead people still be in shock? Apparently they still have the capabilities to flip through files and call out the numbers of waiting customers. I wonder what heinous crime against humanity the employees had to commit to be assigned these roles in the afterlife.

Most of the people around me also seem to be in shock. I prod them with questions for a while till eventually one of them speaks. An unhealthily thin and gaunt woman mumbles a nearly indecipherable explanation, but I catch the name of the organization the employees work for: Reincarnation Assignment. From what I’ve gathered, the work they perform is an evaluation process with choice taken into consideration. It seems likely that jumpers have close to the last pick. Further observation proves me right. With well over a hundred thousand souls pouring in each day, martyrs, casualties, and victims are priorities. Next in line, a good handful of the most genuinely kind and selfless people one could ever meet, assuming they had better sense than me… not all that difficult. These are the kind of people who don’t have to wait in line. On the plus side, there are still many, many others behind me: killers, rapists, the most detestable beings to ever have once lived.

After a certain amount of time—that vague measurement really is the best I can do right now—I arrive at the desk to a middle aged woman with sharp beady eyes and frazzled, overly treated hair that looks like electrocuted hay. She stamps my “file”, forbids me from opening it, and refers me to a cubicle around the corner. I’m tempted to pore through the pages probably concerning my life’s worth, but just in case this isn’t hell, I decide to avoid the sort of breach in protocol that might guarantee me damnation.

The man at the cubicle is neither young nor old, with dark hair and eyes and an odd but not unpleasant face. His eyes widen instantly as I hand him my file. His expression makes me question if I never knew him, maybe even briefly or in passing in my life. “I’m sorry, but do I…” Before I finish, he snatches the file off his desk and makes his way hastily around his cubicle. “Follow me,” he says firmly and quietly before striding down the hall.

The fourth door down appears insignificant, yet he looks to me purposefully before pulling open the standard bar-like handle. The whole room is empty, every wall painted a color that I cannot immediately identify. Somehow I realize that this color, now unfamiliar, is what I used to know of as white when I was living.
I turn when the man closes the door abruptly, only to find that it has already melted into the wall… which is now a dense forest of pines and cedars. A sick awareness floods through me and I turn to find the mossy boulder perched on the edge of the cliff. I don’t know what moves my feet forward, but I step to the edge and find the same churning river below. My throat constricts and my stomach coils as the same undeniable force plants my feet on the boulder. I turn back to where the door once was to find the forest dissolving into a new color that I know was called black when I was living. This new mass forms a threating wave and rushes toward me as I feel my feet shift further to the jagged edge of the rock. One foot slips, delivering a brief kick to the air below, but I catch myself and race headlong into the wave.

I fall on the surprising hard floor back in the supposedly white room. I’m back in the room. Am I still dead? I felt it when I hit the ground, can I still bruise? Whose shoes are those? I look up to find the same man, and find his dark eyes widening. When he helps me up, I realize how much I’m shaking.

“It is of the greatest importance that you compose yourself right now. Until you leave the building, you must stay calm.”

I don’t know why I am able to follow his direction so well, or why I even trust him. When we return to his desk, he opens a huge file cabinet, pulls out two documents and slides them in my file. He stamps the file, so it reads FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION in red all caps across the front. The man returns the file to me and instructs me matter-of-factly. “Turn this in to Desk #742. You may open your file before turning it in but if you remove or incriminate any of its contents, there will be consequences.”

I take the file and walk numbly away from the cubicle. After a few steps I open the file to find two photographs. One is a woman I don’t recognize. I forget the glimpse I took of her face once I see the second image: me.

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