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A different view of death

A different view of death

I'm not looking forward to it, but what other choice do I have.

As he looked around all he could see, except for the long line in front of him, was a thick fog. It was certainly different from any other fog he'd seen. Instead of a damp, gray, chilly, fog, this one seemed to be warm and inviting, even cheerful with its rosy glow. Looking to his rear he saw more people joining the line in a continuous stream.

Immediately behind him was a short, elderly man, dressed in nothing but what seemed to be a hospital gown looking up at him. To be polite he said, “Hello, how are you?”

The old man looked a little surprised but answered, “Why, I feel fine, thank you.”

He uttered, “That's good,” as he turned to the front again. He saw that the line had moved up quite a few spots and walked up behind a large man with very ragged and dirty clothes.

The man turned and very truculently said, “Are you following me, buddy? What for?”

“No, not really, just following the line as I guess we all are. Aren't you?”

He looked puzzled for a moment. “Yea, I guess I am.” Before he turned forward again it could be seen that he had a huge gash on the side of his neck and his shirt was covered with still fresh blood.

The line moved forward again for a few paces and then stopped. It continued that way for some time. He felt no urgency or impatience. He neither wondered why he was in the line or when it would end. Why should he? There was all the time in the world, and he was content just being there.

After a while he looked ahead and could see where the line ended. There was a stone podium with a lectern on it. Behind the lectern there was a tall older man with a long black beard. It seemed that he would ask a question of the person in front of him, then he would consult a book and direct them to one of two doors. When he got closer he could hear some of the conversations.

“Listen to me young man, do you know how long I've had to stand in that line with that riffraff. I'm a very influential person. I know the governor and you can be sure he'll hear about this. It'll be a cold day in hell before I put up with this sort of foolishness again.”

“I'm absolutely sure you're right about that, ma'am. If you'll just step through that door to your left, I'm sure you'll get exactly what you deserve, Mrs. Tiller.”

He didn't hear the start of the next conversation until the man behind the lectern loudly exclaimed, “You're a lawyer? Well I'll be damned. Don't take me literally of course, but it's been a long time since I've seen one of you on the right side. If you please, sir, would you please go through that door on your right. You may be lonely for a while but I'm sure you'll meet some grand souls there.”

The next person was an attractive young lady carrying a pair of crutches. “Name please.”

“Lauren Kenyon.”

After consulting his book he said, “Ah, yes, Miss Kenyon, I hope you're feeling better now.”

“Oh, yes sir, my legs have straightened and I'm able to breathe much better. I'm not even wheezing.”

“Well, you certainly went through hell before you came here. Just go through the door on your right and things will get even better.”

The man behind the lectern glanced up, then yelled, “Hey, you there! Yes, you, where in hell do you think you're going? We don't allow jumping the line. Get back where you belong.” When the man tried to get in the line where he was the man snapped his fingers and two little red imps appeared, complete with small red pitchforks. “Put that fool back where he belongs. I don't know why the ones that try to jump the line don't realize they shouldn't be in such a hurry to get where they're going. Next.” This would be the large man with the cut throat.

“Name please.”

The man growled, “Who wants to know?”

The man looked down over his lectern at him. “Oh, one of them.” My name is Peter, you may have heard of me. He then consulted a different list he had on the side and said, “There's an Oscar, aka Tiny, Muldoon due here today. Is that you?”

“So what if it is. I'm not sayin' another word 'til I see a lawyer.”

“We aim to please, Mr. Muldoon. I'm sure you'll find a large selection to choose from if you'll just step through that door to your left.”

Muldoon walked to the door, opened it and let it close behind him, but not before one could see a orange red glow over his shoulders.

“Next. Name please.”

The man had to think for a moment, “Uh, Ed Smith, sir.” The politeness was because the lectern reminded him of the judge's bench where he'd had toappear a few times to bail out his wife for reckless driving and speeding.

Peter moaned, “Oh Lord,” and leaned to a cherub aside of the podium. “Give me the Smith book, will you?” The cherub staggered under the weight of a book at least three times larger than the book Peter had been using.

“Uh, excuse me Mr. Peter, but why is that book so big?”

“There's no mister in front of my name, sir. Sometimes people put Saint in front, but for the sake of brevity let's just stick with Peter, and if you think this one is big you ought to see the Jones one, it takes two cherubs to handle that. Now let's see... Is it Edward, Edwin or another form of Ed?”

“It's Edward. Edward James, if that helps.”

“Let's keep looking. Where are you from, Ed?”

“Outside of a little town in Canada. I doubt if you ever heard of it.”

“Has it a cemetery? If it has, I've heard of it.”

“Oh sure, there's a nice one just south of town a ways on Route 21. I think there's one at the United church too.

“Oh yea, I know the one on Route 21 well, even though it is kinda new to my thinking. Didn't it just open in 1967?”

“I think you're right, Peter. Uh, is there a problem? I see you're looking through a lot of pages.”

“Maybe, I don't know yet. What religion are you?”

“I can't say really, I think there's something there, but I don't know what.”

“Well, I can't find you. You're not trying to pull some kind of trick are you? I'd strongly advise against it.”

“No no, I'm who I say I am. What do you mean you can't find me? I'm right in front of you.”

“Don't get upset, we'll get it straightened out in time. You do know why you're here, don't you?”

“It took me a while to figure out but yea, I guess I'm dead.”

“Not officially until you go through one of those doors and get your just desserts, but unofficially you're a gone gosling, a dearly departed, a lost loved one, gone but not forgotten, you've bitten the dust, bought the farm, cashed in your chips, kicked the bucket, assumed room......”

“That's enough, I get the picture, Pete. What happens now?”

“This happens from time to time, but a lot more since they tried to computerize all the records. We can usually straighten it out pretty quick. Why don't you have a seat over there with those people. I'll call you if anything turns up.”

Ed walked over and sat on a very comfortable padded bench and said to the other four people, two men and two women, “Hi, I'm Ed Smith.” Three of them just looked bored and nodded but the fourth said, “Hello, I'm Johann Bach, but not the one you're probably thinking about,” in a distinctly German accent.

“Nice to meet you, Johann, I take it you're from Germany.”

“Oh, no, I'm from Vermont, but originally from Germany.”

“Let me take another guess, from your clothes I guess you died at a costume party.”

“Why do you think that? Because of my uniform? No, I was shot by a British soldier during what they now call the Revolutionary War, late in 1776.”

“What! Have you been sitting here since then?”

“Shh, don't shout, I don't want Peter to notice me and find out he's found my name, I'm happy right here.”

“You are? Why? I don't understand.”

“That redcoat got me as I was leaving Madame Jeanine's parlor for young women, if you follow my meaning. He wouldn't have got me if I hadn't been a little, ah, tiddly. I'm not taking the chance that I'll have to take the left hand door.”

“Well, good luck.” Ed was getting bored and decided to walk a little. There was path in front of the benches and he started, but didn't get very far when he heard, “Psst.” He didn't think much about it and continued. He turned and started back and when he reached the same spot he again heard, “Psst.”

He looked over at the nearest bench to see a blond woman gesturing for him to come closer. She was fairly attractive, but looked a little hard with very heavy makeup on. He walked over to hear her say, “You look a little bored. Do you want to have a party?”

Ed, being a bit straight laced, took a few moments to recognize her meaning, then said, “Uh, no thanks, besides, I'm married.”

“Yea, so are most of my johns, uh, clients. Don't you remember the part that says, 'Till death us do part?' I don't think you're married anymore. If you're feeling a little more frisky later I'll be here, I'm Dawn Gloria.”

Just then Peter called out, “Murgatroyd Finstermacher.”

“Damn, I guess giving him my stage name only worked for a while. Maybe I'll see you later, fella.”

Ed thought, “I sincerely hope not if I'm right about which door you'll get.”

He continued his walk to see the other waiting man pacing too. He was a black man dressed in a clean white shirt and pressed black pants, but with open sandals on his feet. As they met on the path he asked, “Have you been waiting long?”

The man replied in a heavily accented English, “I don't think so, but it's hard to tell with no clocks or calendars. Someone told me there is no time here. They're making up their minds if I stay or get sent back.”

“They can do that? Why would they send you back?”

“Let me explain. I was a Christian in a heavily Muslim African country. My family had gone on ahead to church but I was late. I was hurrying to catch up and was taking a short cut through the jungle when a snake bit me. My page said I was supposed to be with them when the church blew up and we all were killed, but I died first.

“Okay, but what's the difference? You're still dead. Just rewrite your page.”

“I guess you didn't notice Peter's book; all the pages are written in stone. I think it's a traditional thing and they don't like to do a revision. They either redo mine or kill the snake and redo his. Oh, I see Peter calling me. I hope they have it straightened out.”

He went over to Peter and they talked for a few moments, then he rushed back for his prayer book and explained, “ They're going to do the snake's over. It was young and wasn't as long as mine. And I don't even have to go back. Peter said it would be awful messy to bring me back in a basket anyway. Now I can join my family. I hope things turn out as well for you.” He ran to the door on the right and rushed in.

Ed walked for a while and then sat down again, even napped for a while until a cherub woke him saying Peter would like to talk to him. He rushed over and asked, “Did they find me, Pete? Am I okay to go?”

“Gee, I'm sorry, Ed, but no, they haven't. They did tell me it might take some time and I'd like to ask a favor from you.”

“A favor? From me? I don't understand, what could I do that you folks couldn't handle?”

“You've seen how busy we've been, just look how long the line is. Anyway, the Angel of Death is falling behind and we need someone to pick up the slack. You have to admit, you're not busy and the book says you're sensible and dependable. In your line of work with cattle, you're used to death. We think you'd fit right in.”

“I don't know, Pete. Why don't you ask Johann? He's been around a lot longer than me.”

Peter leaned over the lectern and said quietly, “He's neither sensible or dependable. Just between you and me we found him in an old book over two hundred years ago, but until he's ready to take responsibility for his actions he can sit there till judgment day as far as I'm concerned. He could have gone through the right door anytime. He wouldn't get very high but he'd be there.”

“But if I take this on won't the lines get even longer?”

“We've known for over a thousand years we needed more lines with population growth and they're finally going to do it by ages. Think Ed, there's a lot of people suffering past their time out there that could get relief if we could get to them.”

“Putting it that way I can't say no, but what do I have to do?”

“All you have to do is touch them. You've heard of people just falling dead, haven't you? That's the easy part. Some of them will fight you if they know who you are, but some will welcome you with open arms. You can be invisible if you want. It's your decision to tell the difference. It won't be easy with some but has to be done.”

“Can't I do just the ones who'll welcome me? At least starting out until I get my feet under me.”

“Hmm, yea, I guess we can do that. You have to be blessed, Ed, just step behind that cloud there and follow instructions.” He did so and saw a very tall individual that he assumed was the Angel of Death, but instead of a black robed, hooded figure there was a very handsome smiling angel.”

“Hello, Ed. So you're the one who's going to help me out for a while? That's very nice of you. Don't tell Peter I told you, but it's going to gain you some extra points too. Oh, I have one of those archaic names they hung on us quite a few millennia ago, but you can just call me Zeb.” He offered his hand and Ed reached for it, but stopped as he realized what touching him meant.

Zeb grinned and said, “What are you worried about, you're already dead. You're not going to kill me either — you haven't even been blessed yet.” Ed shook Zeb's hand.

“Er, yea, that's right. Nice to meet you, Zeb. Uh, can you kind of fill me in on this? Peter was kind of sketchy.”

“Sure, be glad to. I'll assign a little death cherub to you. He's kind of one of my apprentices, but he won't have the touch. He has a list and he'll be able to get you to where you should go.” Zeb leaned closer and whispered, “Just between you and me, none of my apprentices have brains enough to handle it.”

“Do I kneel or something for this blessing? I'm sorta new at this.”

“Kneel? Why would you kneel? You got the blessing when we shook hands.” He gave a loud whistle and a littler angel materialized. He looked like an teen aged cupid without the bow and arrows.

“This is Nabu. He keeps the lists up to date and he'll be your guide. Now listen up, you're going to do the ones who want to come here, either from pain and illness or because they think they're being a burden on someone. You don't have to be visible to them if you don't want to, but you'll get some pretty bizarre stories if you are. It's up to you. Okay, that's about it, are you ready?”

“Not really, but I guess I better get going before things, uh, people really start stacking up.”

“Thataboy, I'll check on you later, but I better hustle too. Bye now.” Zeb quickly faded away.

Ed turned to Nabu. “I think we better go too.”

Nabu, in a high pitched voice said, “Just let me put my hand on you and we'll be gone.”

He touched Ed and they were in a hospital room looking at a very emaciated old man lying there unconscious, but above him was a translucent figure of the same man in much better shape. This figure looked at Ed and said, “I was hoping you'd show up. I can't see how to cut myself loose from that wreck down there...can you give me a hand?”

Nabu whispered, “His name is Charlie.”

Ed saw that there were people sitting around the room, some crying, others just looking lost.

Charlie snapped, “Well, let's move it, I'm not enjoying this much.”

Ed said, “Sure Charlie,” reached over and touched the body on the bed. The translucent figure said, “Thanks, that feels a whole lot better,” as he floated up and disappeared through the ceiling.

Nabu touched Ed and as they faded Ed heard the steady beep turn into a continuous tone and a female voice start to wail.

Ed and Nabu were now in a living room. In matching recliners were a very old couple. The man was dozing but the woman was just staring into space. She was held in her chair with a wide padded belt. Her eyes showed no recognition at all.

Nabu said, “He's got a way to go but she has Alzheimer's and it's finally shutting down all her bodily processes. She's ready.”

As Ed touched her the wispy form of a young lady emerged, looked at her husband as she floated away and said, “Oh my darling, I'll see you soon.”

Some time went by in this fashion until Ed uttered, “Stop, Nabu. I don't think I can do any more now. There's just too much emotion for me to handle and I'm not an emotional person, at least not that much. I don't think I have another tear left in my body.”

Zeb was suddenly there, “You're a good man, Ed. I didn't think you'd last this long. You did fine and I'm sure I can handle it from here. Thank you so very much. I think Peter wants to see you.”

As Ed walked up aside of the line he looked over to see Charlie close to the head of the line. Charlie did a double take and started clapping which drew many more people he'd helped just lately. Another clapped, then another. Soon there was hundreds clapping and as the word spread even to those he hadn't helped were applauding.

Peter looked down at the blushing Ed and said, “I've never seen that before. You made a lot of souls happy, Ed.”

“Zeb said you wanted to see me, Pete. Did they find me?”

“Yes, finally. Seems like one of Zeb's apprentices got a little carried away when things started backing up and did you in by mistake. I can't blame him too much, there's more than a couple hundred in Canada with your name. Still, he's getting a couple hundred years guarding the Pit when he's off duty. I think he'll be more careful from now on.”

“So what happens to me?”

“What's the last thing you remember from down there?”

“I think I was loading shi...ah, manure in the spreader. Yea, I remember, it was just after my honey had made some great soup for lunch and I got on the tractor. Why?”

“Because that's where you're going back to. We'll have to fiddle with the time a little, but we're used to that. You won't remember any of this until the next time we see each other and according to the book it'll be quite a while. If you don't screw up too bad I can almost guarantee you a good seat. Stay away from those Finstermacher sisters, there's two more and they're bad news. It's been real nice meeting you, Ed. Have a good life.”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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