"-ary of your day-to-day schedule," said Sir, handing John a simple piece of what appeared to be Xerox copy paper. "There will be exceptions from time to time, of course, and will be handled strictly on a case-by-case basis…"
John allowed Sir's voice to fall to a muted hum in his mind as he read the paper. If the ink weren't so perfectly applied, as part of the paper itself, John would have said this was the product of an antique typewriter
0025 Attend to hygiene
0100 Session One and rest period
0400 Meal One
0425 Rest period
0450 Session Two and rest period
0550 Physical maintenance and conditi
John was a slow, cautious reader, and had only made it halfway down the page when he realized Sir was watching him expectantly.
(could've been like that for half an hour and i wouldn't've noticed)
"Do you have any medical conditions?" Sir repeated (presumably, anyway; John hadn't actually heard him the first time), and John noticed something: where most people would sound impatient at having to repeat themselves, or at least overly patient, it sounded as if it were the first time Sir had ever used the phrase in any conversation. His job, it seemed, was to introduce new souls to their afterlife, and he must have used those words thousands - hundreds of thousands, maybe - of times.
(so he's probably not human not as if it changes anything)
"Well," said John slowly, "I had mono a few years ago, and the virus is supposed to stay with you for a few years afterwards dormant. Or something like that, anyway." He paused for thought. "Oh, and I'm allergic to some cleaning agents."
"It's usually only found in dishwashing detergent." John leaned back in his leather office chair grinning, and it gave way comfortably. His mother had been thoroughly irritated that while most boys had to make the utmost effort to have so much as a chance to wheedle their way from the agonizingly slow-paced chore of dishwashing, John needed only to hold up his hands in a sort of, "Don't hurt me, Mommy," gesture. His father had thought it one of the funniest things he'd ever heard of. Swinging his legs against the ground, and throwing his upper torso to the side for extra momentum, John set his chair spinning, reveling in childhood memories. He came to a stop after three full rotations facing Sir, who was still watching him expectantly. "Oh, yes," said John, leaning forward, and one arm on the desk separating Sir and himself and the other on his hip. "I'm dead." His face broke into a smile.
Sir regarded John with his usual stoicism before responding. "John, why are you so cheerful?"
"Am I cheerful?"
John shrugged and feel back into his chair. "You've only known me for a few hours. What makes you think I'm unusually cheerful?"
"For one, we had to use a rather forceful treatment on you that in most cases reduces the…patient's trust greatly. You, on the other hand, became much more agreeable afterwards." Sir's pauses were among one of the strangest of his mannerisms, John realized. A man, when hunting for the right word, will look to the sky or make, "It's coming, don't worry," gestures, probably coming from the desire to fill silence. Sir, however, would simply froze for a few seconds while mechanically searching for the proper word, as if picking words from a rack and fitting them into a slot to see how well they fit.
John had already gathered his thoughts on this situation, something being a priest had taught him to do very well over the years. Astoundingly well, considering the subject was ultimately faith. "I think the situation sort of…cleared up, in a way. I couldn't make myself accept the fact that I was dead. I talked the same, felt the same, was the same, really. And your little…'invisible treatment' knocked it into place. Reaffirmed my faith." John smiled. "I'd also like to apologize for questioning you so much. It's not my place."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"Why does it matter?"
"Generally extreme happiness is a precursor to mental breakdown.
"You're on a one-thousand unit time basis. One thousand units are a cycle. Your schedule, which is in your hand, is very straightforward. I suggest you memorize it as soon as possible." Sir stopped and didn't continue. John took that to mean he should read the rest of the paper.
0550 Physical maintenance and conditioning
0700 Meal Two
0725 Rest period
Not following one's schedule is not allowed. Punishments are severe.
Food choices (no less than two) are water, bread, beef, pork, oranges, bananas, celery, carrots, and chocolate.
Education choices (no less than one) are history (Christian, Islamic, and Hindi), mathematics (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus), science (biology, inorganic chemistry, and third-dimension physics), and literature.
"It ends rather abruptly, don't you think?"
Sir stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"Well, the last word is 'literature.' There's no, 'Enjoy your stay,' or, 'Make yourself comfortable," or, 'Waitresses are on call.' It's very cold. You should have your Human Resources Department look into that." John gave the chair another whirl good-naturedly.
He felt good. He'd found that most people envisioned Heaven as very aimless and chaotic. Their descriptions generally boiled down to the same thing: graceful people in white robes strolling around on clouds, perpetually happy for no real reason. John had hoped for something a little more structured, and it seemed that all those wishing for a meandering eternity were going to miss out.
"I mean, it doesn't even mention me. I'm the customer, man." He leaned back comfortably as his chair came to a halt. It had stopped after a spin-and-a-half, and John cheated it around for the seven-twenty to face Sir again.
Sir, as expected, overlooked the humor. He frowned. "It doesn't?"
John handed the paper across the desk, and Sir took it smoothly. "I don't see it."
Sir's eyes darted to the top of the paper, shimmering again. John couldn't suppress a shudder. The glimmer faded quickly, though, and Sir said, "Right at the top." He clamped the paper between his palm and four fingers and held it for John to see.
John looked it over. "Above or below the number?"
The paper retracted, and Sir looked at it again. He frowned and looked up at John. Then Sir did something so terrifying, so heart-stopping, that John thought that it was the most frightened he'd ever been in his life.
It wasn't a stereotypical evil villain's laugh, one that begins and a throaty chuckle and expands into a howling guffaw; it wasn't a devilish snicker, backed by a sinister gaze. Sir's lips rolled back, exposing two white semicircles of perfection, and his nostrils flared. A bark leapt from his throat, tearing through the air and throwing itself into John's head. And another. John flinched, but didn't drop his gaze, because Sir hadn't dropped his own. He was still maintaining perfect eye contact, eyes blaring beacons of…of…
(he's going to kill me kill me he'll jump over the desk and bash my fucking brains onto the floor and kill me)
And then it was over. His mouth closed, and the auditory assault ceased. The fires of his eyes had been forced back, but somehow John knew it hadn't been extinguished.
"John," said Sir, and John clenched his armrests in expectation as Sir smiled again. "You are the number."