I loved your story.
| Saturday. No alarm. No work. And as best Steve could remember, like most weekends, no plans. Judging from his sore neck and throbbing head, it must have been one butt kicker of a Friday night though. Funny thing was he didn’t remember anything that would have resulted in him feeling like this. Quite frankly, for a young bachelor, his life was pretty damned boring. He did know one thing however – he was hungry as hell. Next stop after taking his morning obligatory leak was going to be the refrigerator.
Still three-quarters asleep and with eyes shut and the fly of his well-worn Sponge-Bob Square-Pants boxers open, it took him a few hazy seconds to realize he was peeing on the closed toilet lid. “Must’ve been one of those kind of nights,” thought Steve, “if I closed the damn lid after worshiping the porcelain gods.” Living alone, there was really no need for the seat to be down under normal situations, much less the lid. “Oh well, one more thing around the apartment to clean up. Eventually.”
Most days Steve just grabbed a bite on the way to work. Steve had a degree in Economics, which only served to educate him in the fact that he hated economics. As a medical supplies salesman, his office was the car, a Honda CR-V that the company provided him with. As often as not, that quick bite came from the home of the Golden Arches. He couldn’t care less about two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame seed bun, but he’d drive a mile out of the way for a sausage, egg and cheese McGriddle. Not much chance of finding anything like that in his refrigerator though. Eating out most of the time meant various odds and ends in the fridge accumulating over indefinite periods of time. Whenever the food became unrecognizable or grew hair longer then Crystal Gayle’s, it meant time for a chunking out party. “Let’s see – eggs.” He couldn’t think of any egg occasions in the last couple of months. “Pass on the eggs. Four slices of cheese, two American, one swiss, and one cheddar. Now, if I can find some bread or a reasonable facsimile thereof, we have breakfast.” The four frozen dinners in the freezer compartment – all salisbury steak – didn’t quite merit breakfast consideration. Steve had always had a thing for Salisbury steak frozen dinners from his early childhood. Frozen dinners were reserved for special occasions, his mother told him. Typically the special occasion was she didn’t feel like preparing anything. “Salisbury steak” sounded exotic to him, so that was Steve’s choice in frozen dinners. It was likely years before it dawned on him that it was really nothing much more than a hamburger patty with a little gravy poured onto it. Now for the beverage du jour. Steve wasn’t much of a coffee drinker, especially if he had to make it himself. And judging from the way his head felt, beer, however tempting, probably wasn’t a good choice either. “Looks like I have a choice of vegetable juice, orange juice, milk, or a mystery liquid in a brown foam cup from sources no longer known.” The vegetable juice was an off-brand that he thought tasted like three-year-old celery, even though he had probably never tasted three-year-old celery, so really didn’t know, so that was out. Next choice – orange juice. “Hmm. Orange juice would have been good. Too bad it’s an empty carton.” Some of Steve’s buddies that came over now and then were always more than willing to help themselves to the beer and other scarce offerings they could scrounge up. The empty juice carton was the result of it being easier to stick the thing back into the refrigerator than taking the effort of finding the trash can located under the kitchen sink, the same as it always had been. Since he couldn’t remember any when, where or what on the brown foam cup, or for that matter if it was originally brown, that probably wasn’t a good idea either. The mold on the lemon wedge floating on the top helped to affirm that decision.
“Well, I guess I’m down to milk,” mused Steve. “Best if used by October 28. A year would help. Oh well, smells alright.” Steve took a deep swig from the carton – glasses were very much an underused utensil in the apartment. “Crap! This isn’t right!” Steve checked the carton again “Soy milk? What the ----?” Steve knew fully well he’d never bought soy milk in his life. What this was doing in his refrigerator or how it got there, he hadn’t the faintest idea. Could it have been brought over by one of his buddies? “Yeah, right. They don’t even bring their own beer, much less freakin’ soy milk.”
Upon closer examination, he noticed other things, like tofu and pomegranate and chocolate “power bars” that definitely were not things that were placed there by him. Soon it hit him there were several things around the one bedroom apartment that weren’t quite right. He had been living in this same apartment ever since he got out of college, so he knew every nook and cranny pretty well. For one thing, there was a newspaper on the dining room table. Steve hadn’t bought a newspaper in years. “Why pay six bits for a paper when it’s all online free,” he always said. He was also pretty confident that curio filled with little ceramic animal figurines wasn’t his either. Glancing at the stack of DVDs by the television he made a quick inventory: “Blazing Saddles. Check. Rocky II. Check. 50 First Dates. Definitely NOT check. The clothes he had washed were on the couch as usual, but they were folded. Neatly folded. “How the hell did that happen?” he wondered. “Come to think of it,” Steve thought, “the toilet lid I peed on a while ago was padded. Admittedly I don’t pay that close attention to toilet lids, but I know damned well that lid has never been cushioned.” It was like he was still in his apartment but it wasn’t his apartment anymore.
He was headed back to the bedroom when he heard the front door open. “Well, good morning, Steve! It’s about time you got up, you sleepyhead!” Steve didn’t know who she was, but if she had anything to do with last night, he was really regretting not being able to remember it. He didn’t exactly have a wild bachelor lifestyle, so on those sporadic occasions when he “got some”, he preferred to be fully conscious. She had that “girl next door” look to her. Not the girl next door that always actually lived next door, but the girl next door every guy always wished lived next door. He was also thinking more along the lines of the Elisha Cuthbert style girl next door from the movie The Girl Next Door, not the bleached-blonde silicone and collagen enhanced version girl next door of the Playboy show The Girls Next Door. Only this girl was brunette and standing inside his door and not next door.
“Please excuse my embarrassment and my rudeness in asking,” said Steve of this intruding but rather appealing stranger, “but just exactly who are you and did we do anything last night that I should be overly ashamed or especially proud of doing?”
“I’m Angel, and I’ve been assigned to you. And no, we didn’t do anything last night – well, at least not together.”
“I may deeply regret asking this, but just exactly what do you mean by the term ‘assigned to me?’”
“Well, anytime someone dies, the guardian angel – if there was one - closes the case and then they’re assigned a liaison until all the paperwork, which by the way is a lot, is processed. And since you’re the one that died, I guess that makes me the liaison!”
“And therein lies the flaw of this particular situation” Steve responded. “As you can clearly see, I’m quite alive.”
“Well, if you’d just be so kind as to look at the newspaper, you would able to clearly see for yourself that you’re not alive, and have been that way for around a week now. It’s laying right there on the table.”
“I most certainly am not lying! It’s right there in the paper!”
“No, you should say ‘the newspaper is lying on the table’, not laying on the table.”
“Whatever. Well, if you’re finished with the English lesson of the day, are you going to look at the freaking paper or not? It’s right there in black and white in the obituary section, page 14.”
“No kidding? They’ve started listing the deaths in the obituary section? What a novel approach!”
“Bite my butt, Steve.”
Steve decided to play along – anything to keep this hot-looking but weird baby doll in his apartment a little longer - for now and checked out the paper, the Clarion Ledger, which he always referred to as the Clarion Liar. There it was, right there in black and white (and in the obituary section and on page 14 , just as she had said):
“Steve Dearman of Jackson, Miss., died late Friday afternoon, apparently from a broken neck he suffered after a fall while participating in an activity called ‘geocaching’ near Bogue Chitto, Miss. He was 28.”
Even though he was still leaning more towards the opinion that this was some sort of elaborate prank, it did make chills run down his spine. “Well, I do remember tripping on something while geocaching in the Bogue Chitto swamps, but that was yesterday, not last week, as this Angel claims.” He went to his computer and found the online version of the paper. There it was online too. He looked at the dates of both the printed version and the online version. They matched. Next he moved the mouse pointer down to the bottom right corner of his computer screen over the time, making the date pop up. “Oh shit! I really have been out of it for a week!” Slowly he turned around and stood up, weak-kneed, facing Angel. He just stood there staring. Meanwhile, Angel had opened up the refrigerator and was holding up the soy milk. She looked at Steve and said “You drank my milk, didn’t you?” Glancing towards the sink, she saw no empty glass in it. “And you drank straight from the carton too! Eww! Gross!” She began pouring out the milk into the sink while muttering something in what he thought may have been in French, and he was pretty confident even though he didn’t understand French, that what she was saying wasn’t exactly terms of endearment.
“Am I in - you know - Heaven?”
“Uh, not just exactly.”
“Then am I in Hell?”
“Again, not exactly.”
“Then where in the ‘not exactly Hell’ am I?”
“You’re in your own apartment. Only I guess technically, that’s a ‘not exactly’ too. It’s more of a genuine replica of your apartment, complete with all your stuff.”
“And I would guess from the looks of it, some of your stuff too?”
“Well, yeah. If I’m going to be staying with you awhile, I may as well make myself at home, you know.”
“Whoa. I need to figure out what’s happening here. Point One – how can something be genuine and a replica at the same time? Is it or is it not my apartment? Point Two – how long is ‘awhile?’ Point Three – are you an angel?”
“Point One – It is still your apartment, in a sense. But in another sense, it’s your apartment in another plane. Sort of a genuine replica, you see? Actually, that part probably doesn’t make sense. You’re right, how can anything be genuine and a replica at the same time, huh? OK, see, it’s like this; whenever you broke your neck geowhatchamacalliting…”
“I believe that would be ‘Geocaching,’” Steve interjected.
“I kind of believe that’s what I said, geowhatchamacalliting. Anyhow, when you bit the big one, deep-sixed, kicked the bucket, croaked, expired, checked out, whatever, you couldn’t very well stay where you were. People kind of expect you to be, like, dead there. So you had to be moved to an alternate Earth where everything’s the same. Except people you knew before, you don’t know now and they don’t know you. A lot of the people you’ll see here are in the same situation as you, and just in sort of a holding pattern.”
“Uh yeah, Angel, that really clears it all up perfectly. Thanks.”
“You’re lying. But thanks. Anyway, point two – ‘awhile’ is ‘awhile’. It could be a couple of days, it could be a couple of years. You see, it’s like this; all the files have to be reviewed and papers signed before you can be placed. The waiting list for Heaven wouldn’t be very long ordinarily, but there’s a huge backlog for Hell. To maintain the proper ratios, sometimes Heaven has to sit and wait for Hell to catch up. Point three – what was point three again?”
“Point three is are you an angel?” Steve reminded her.
“Well now, I’m an Angel and you’re a Steve. Is that what you’re asking me?” answered Angel, smirking.
“No. I know your name is Angel, but are you an actual angel? You know, the wings, golden harp, Hark! The Herald, Lo, an angel, type of angel?”
“Not exactly. Obviously, no wings, but they’re not really needed. No golden harp, but I do have a wooden violin. Angels have a little higher calling. As I said before, I’m more of a board-appointed liaison here to guide you through the transition until they can decide what to do with you.”
“And what board is that?”
“The Eternity Board, of course. They’re the ones that review your case and decide whether you should uh, pack for cool weather or hot weather.”
“So, do you mean to say there really is a Heaven and Hell?”
“Well, of course there’s a Heaven and Hell, doofus! Haven’t you ever read a Bible before? I believe they’re mentioned a few times.”
“Sure. I stole a Gideon Bible from a hotel once.”
“That’s not nice, Steve. That’s number six on the big ten list – you shall not steal.”
“I’m kidding, Angel, but just for the record, it’s actually number eight. So, basically, I’m just dead with nowhere to go, right?”
“Sort of. Except in the truest sense of the term ‘dead’, you’re still sort of between living and dead until you finally move on. But in the basic earthly sense of the word, yeah, you’re dead but the train ticket ain’t been punched yet.”
“OK, so I’m undead, huh?”
“Oh no! You’re not undead! Don’t even think that! Undead is an altogether matter. It’s not like you see in the movies, but still, you don’t want to be undead. Not a pleasant thing. Trust me. Uh, not that I’ve ever been undead myself, but I’m familiar with it. We prefer the term ‘transitional existence.’”
“So am I supposed to ‘go to the light’ or something? I’m not seeing any light.”
“Oh, be realistic. No, the Board will contact you when it’s time. In the meantime, you just sort of hang around and let me guide you through the changes.”
“So, there’s going to be some changes?”
“Oh yeah, baby. Steve, You have no idea.”
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