Look both ways before you cross the road! I cannot stress this enough. Because I didn't one day and that's when my life really started to suck. Well, my afterlife if you want to get technical.
"There goes the ball again!" laughed my stupid fat neighbour, Joshua, as the football we were kicking about bounced onto the road. Of course the type ball of which I'm referring to will vary depending on which region of the world you are living in, so I'll leave that one to your imagination.
"You kicked it, you get it," was my rebuttal. It did not work. Joshua stood, fat and unmoving with his arms crossed. I hated it when he did that. I hated him in general. His mum was my mum's friend and every time she waddled her rotund self down to our house to gorge on the offerings of our fridge she would bring Joshua with her. Of course I was assigned the duty of keeping him entertained, something which I despised. But in life we all have to do things which suck; visit our alcoholic grandmas, eat corned beef, defend out country from communists, stuff like that. This was another one of those things, though if the choice had been mine I would have selected to try my luck with the commies.
I sighed as I turned and went after the damn ball. Our street was usually deprived of such things as traffic and, because Joshua's mum had a large mouth to accompany her large everything else, she was drowning out all other noises with her constant vocal garbage. As a result I could not hear things such as the sound of an incoming truck, which just so happens to be the exact form of transportation which erased me from the scheme of things that fine day.
I chased after the ball, running out onto the road without pausing to look for traffic. Most pre-schoolers could have pointed out the mistake I made but then again they eat stuff like glue so I'm not going to sit here and take crap from some four year olds. Anyway, I should have probably looked because the next thing I knew a truck, with all its immense weight in motion, tried to break at the sight of me but could not come to a halt soon enough to ensure the continuance of my existence. In short, it killed me.
Funnily enough I did not think of myself as being dead at the time. I knew the truck had hit me fair in the square but yet there were no brains on the pavement or tyre tracks on my forehead. I felt no pain whatsoever, and pain is one of the first things I associated with getting hit by a truck. For all I knew I was still alive and kicking. That's when the screaming started.
I was use to Joshua's mum screaming. Actually her screaming and her laughing couldn't really be distinguished from each other. Whenever she found something hilarious she would let lose a screech that made spider monkeys reach for revolvers to end their suffering.
'There she goes again.' I thought. 'Probably found me getting hit by a truck to be the most comical thing she had ever witnessed.'
If I had replaced the word 'comical' with the word 'horrendous' I would have been spot on. Soon my mum had started screaming. Then Joshua. Then the man who had been driving the truck. Then an old person who just happened to be shuffling down the street at that particular time. There was a lot of screaming going on and I found myself feeling disorientated. Something was probably wrong. Perhaps they had all been attacked by ninjas?
Nope, turns out it was the incident with the truck they were all screaming about after all. I turned around myself to have a gander at the problem and was shocked to see someone who looked exactly like me lying just underneath the front of the truck. Had my long lost twin returned just in time to push me out of the way of a moving vehicle, thus sacrificing himself? Nope. It was me. Damn it.
Despite the general bloodiness of my visage I could tell it was me. I shared every single detail with the corpse, including a scar on the right ear; a result of when Joshua and I were five and he believed it would be a good idea to muck around with the hedge-clippers.
'But how can I be in two places at once?' I thought. 'Isn't that against the law of relativity, physics, thermodynamics, attraction and pretty much every single law relating to things under the sun?' It is actually. And there was a supernatural reason to my being in two places.
Looking down at my body I noticed I was more transparent than I use to be. At first I was amused by this new discovery, however, I then started to think of other things that people associate with translucency. Water…windows….molluscs…ghosts…oh dear…
Yep, it was then I realised exactly what was going on. My mum was on a cell phone desperately trying to contact someone or another. I could not hear her as the sounds occurring around me began to fade away until there was only silence. My mum's mouth was still moving though no sound seemed to emerging from it.
Behind her I spotted someone approaching the scene. The figure walked straight past the frenzy that was playing out beside my still warm earthly body and straight up to my ghostly self. It was Death alright.
When most people think of Death they imagine a skeleton dressed in a black robe, holding a scythe. You couldn't be further from the truth. His robe was actually dark navy.
"You must come with me." he said with a deep voice, pointing a bony index finger at me.
"So I'm dead am I?" I asked, just wanting to be sure.
"Apparently so." replied Death. "I haven't got my facts wrong, have I?" He turned around to see my body lying in a pool of blood and vital fluids. "Nope, everything seems to be in order. Look there you are, lying dead under that truck. You appear a little worse for wear if I may say so myself."
"So you've come to take me away from this realm of mortal souls," I replied.
"If you want to get all poetic about it, then yes." replied Death as he pulled a pager out of his robes and glanced at it. "Now do you mind hurrying up? A bus full of businessmen just exploded in Tokyo."
"Wait a tic, don't I get to play you in a fair game of chess?"
"You've been watching too much Swedish art-house crap." said Death as he turned and, with a wave of the arm, caused a silver elevator to appear in front of them. "You coming or not?"
"I get a choice?" I asked, noticing that an ambulance had just pulled up.
"Actually you don't. It was more of a rhetoric question."
"But I can't go just yet!" I yelled in frustration. "I'm too young to die!"
"'Ooh I'm too young to die!'" replied Death in a mocking tone. "Look at it this way. Would you prefer to die or hang out with that obese boy for the rest of your life?"
I looked at Joshua and cringed. "Fine, let's go." I said as I somewhat reluctantly joined Death inside the elevator.
The silver elevator's doors closed shut, removing the world from my view for the last time. Death reached forward and pressed a button.
"Up we go." he said as the elevator sprung to life.
"Well of course," I replied. "What other way could we go?"
"Down obviously," replied Death. "And don't you get all smart about it. Plenty people head that way after all; you're just lucky you got picked early before you could commit too many sins."
"How many did I commit?"
"About fourteen thousand six hundred and seventy five."
"Calm a llama down, that's a relatively good figure. God's really picky, you know that? He even considers natural functions such as farting to be a sin. Of course the limit of sins you commit before being condemned to Hell had to be raised to over half a million as no one was getting to the old pearly gates anymore."
"So God and Heaven exists then?"
"And I'm still getting in despite the fact I'm agnostic?"
"Well, being agnostic equates to six hundred sins straight away. Atheists equal about eight hundred sins while Hinduism gives you a nice square grand. Funnily enough, if you tick the option of 'Jedi' in your census forms you get two hundred sins taken off. God has a sense of humour after all."
I stood there taking this all in, excited, frightened, shocked, amazed. You name it, I felt it.
"Level One: Purgatory." said a pleasant female voice inside the elevator as it slowed down.
"Wait, I'm not getting off here, am I?" I asked, suddenly panicking.
"Minimum sin level of four hundred thousand," mumbled Death. "You're a fair way off here."
I was relieved when the elevator started up again.
"I never expected dying to be like this." I said.
"How can anyone expect what dying will be like? Honestly." said Death. "Though I am surprised how close people have gotten. They were bang on when they started differing Heaven from Hell. I guess we have people like Moses and Abraham to thank for that. Of course the Buddhists are lacking behind a bit when it comes to ideas of Heaven. Instant sin penalty of five hundred to them I'm afraid, but God usually cuts them some slack due to how nice they are to things like bunny rabbits and such."
"You're nothing like I expected either. I expected Death to be a bit more intimidating and…well, articulate."
"You expected me to challenge you to a game of chess so it shows how much you know."
"Level Two: Limbo." said the pleasant woman's voice again, which made me start pondering whether they had voice recording in Heaven.
"God I hate this place," said Death as the sound of babies crying made its way through the elevator doors. "Smells a fair bit as well."
The elevator started up again as we continued to ascended. What we were ascending through, though, I had no idea. Clouds? A dark void of nothingness?
"Soooooo," said Death as he gazed around the elevator. "How about those Jets?"
"Those what?" I replied.
"Those Jets. You know, your local sporting team? I'm trying to strike up conversation here."
"You really have nothing to say to me, do you?"
"Well when you've been in this job for as long as I have you run out of things to talk about."
"I couldn't imagine collecting souls for eternity would be much fun."
Death shrugged. "It has its perks. You should see the expressions on some of the peoples faces when they find out they're dead. It's quite hilarious really. One time this person was like 'Oh no!' and his face went like this. You have to look at me when I do this." I turned to face Death as he pulled the face again. "Yeah, he was like 'Oh no!' and his face looked just like this. Funny, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't know. You're a skeleton and therefore have no face."
"Oh right, I forget that sometimes," said Death, returning to his normal position. "Yeah, so the excitement of the job varies from day to day. Today's turning out to be one of the better ones though. I can't wait to pick up the bus full in Tokyo; group sessions are usually a lot more interesting."
"Level Three: Heaven. Congratulations." said the pleasant females voice as a small amount of confetti suddenly well down from the roof of the elevator.
"Here we are." said Death as the doors opened to reveal…an office?
I couldn't help but feel dumbstruck. Not in the 'this is great' sense of the term mind you. My mouth opened to its maximum bite radius as I stepped out of the elevator.
"Oh yeah, this is another part of the job I love." laughed Death as he took out a digital camera from his navy robes and took a picture of me wearing my stupid expression. "Yep, this one's a keeper alright. Anyway I'll leave you to get acquainted with everyone. See you around then. Actually, I probably won't ever see you again. The chances of dying twice are very slim, you see."
Death spun around and walked back into the elevator, its doors shutting before I had the chance to scream 'What the Hell', despite the irony that this would create. The elevator disappeared in front of my eyes leaving me to face whatever wonders Heaven had install for me.
Everything was quiet for the most part. When I had imagined Heaven in my innocent youth I had always pictured fluffy clouds and singing angels in white robes and a big golden gate. The Heaven in front of me seemed to be a big bluish room comprised of cubicles. The air was full of the sound of tapping keyboards, photocopier machines and the coughing of unenthused workers. Also, I couldn't help but notice 'We're in Heaven' by DJ Sammy was playing through some speakers installed in the ceiling. It looked very similar to the office my dad works at or use to work at. In truth he still works there so I don't know what the grammatically correct thing is to say there.
"Um…Hello?" I called out. After a minute I had not received a response so I called out again. "Hello?"
This time someone stuck their head out from the nearest cubicle. The person looked somewhat like Gregory Peck and he gazed at me in confusion before finally shouting out. "Hey Peter! We've got a new trainee!"
I looked on in confusion as a man about the age of sixty with white hair and a short, well trimmed beard approached. He was dressed in a mauve coloured suit and greeted me with a brisk handshake.
"Ahh, we've been expecting you," he smiled as he shook my hand vigorously. "Welcome, I'm Peter and I'll be your guide of sorts. First off, crushed by a truck ay? Nasty way to go. Don't worry about it though, things could be worse. That's our motto actually."
"I'm dead." I replied, still looking around at my surroundings in disbelief. "How could things be worse?"
"Well you may have been unlucky enough to end up down there." replied Peter, pointing downwards.
"What? In Hell?"
"No, in I.T. Anyway let's get a move on. I've got to get you settled in before all those Japanese men get here. That bus crash was a moment of luck for us; it's always been my opinion that the Japanese are better with computers. Not that it concerns you, young man. If you would follow me please."
Peter began to walk down one of the rows of cubicles and I followed him, not sure exactly what else I could do. What I should have done was run in the opposite direction.
"Excuse me?" I said. "I've got something to ask you."
"It can probably wait till after the tour." replied Peter. "Anyway, you've lived a decent enough existence so God has decided that you can join us in the glory that is Heaven!…inc."
"What was that sorry?"
"No that last bit, you keep saying it in a muffled voice."
"Heaven Incorporated." said Peter loudly. "The finest business in the afterlife. Well it's the only business really."
"Yes! Oooh! Shock! Horror!" exclaimed Peter theatrically. "I know you're probably wondering about the lack of clouds; most people do. That's a sign that our advertising is working."
"Business? Advertising? What are you on about?"
"Jeez, I thought that today's youth was supposed to be bright. Can't you figure out what's going on? Look around you." I did just that. "What do you see?"
"Lots and lots of cubicles," I peered inside one of them. "and they're filled with people working at computers."
"Bingo, that's Heaven Incorporated for you, although you failed to see our water-cooler. That's where most of the social gathering goes down."
I was confused at the concept being presented before me. "So when a person dies they join you here at Heaven Incorporated?"
"Only the best, the brightest and the cleanest." smiled Peter. "Those who end up in Hell also work, though for minimum wage. And all they do is build large pyramids for no reason. Yeah, Hell's productivity has been pretty low as of late."
"So…what exactly do you do here?"
"We work for God, he's our boss."
"No, I mean what sort of jobs are you in charge of exactly?"
"We're in charge of everything." replied Peter. "Come, I'll show you." He led me to a large monitor which was displaying a large amount of information in graph form. "We at Heaven Incorporated are responsible for the smooth running of earth." continued Peter. "As you can see on the monitor, everything you have ever known is under our control. Grass, wind, the sun, politics, even the ocean; actually I'm quite pleased with how the ocean is going at the moment. As you can see by the graph the ocean is going great guns; two times better then the lake systems."
"But…but," I spluttered. "How can you control the ocean? I thought that was controlled by the moon?"
"It is, and we control the moon."
"But it's the gravitational pull of the moon that effects the ocean," I replied in bewilderment. "We were taught that in school."
"Yes, and we control gravity."
"But how can you control gravity!?"
Peter sighed and rolled his eyes. "Okay I see we're going to have to go from the start." he said. "Now our fact sheets tell us that you're agnostic so you're open to the idea of God, right?"
"Good, because here's how Heaven Incorporated began. One fine day or night, no one knows as light had not been created yet, God was sitting around bored. So he created what you and I understand to be the universe. This was no simple feat as God had to make billions upon billion of files and even upgrade his hard drive. Now in this time the earth was created and, because trying to create life on mars caused his computer to crash, God was forced to move all of creation to your planet, which was also my planet and every single other person's planet."
"So there are no other forms of life in the universe then?"
"Of course there aren't. That would be stupid. Anyway it takes a lot of effort to keep all these files running, more effort than a supreme being can exert. So that is why God created man."
"To work for him. When a person inevitably carks it they come here and help God maintain all these systems and files. Look I'll show you our first worker." Peter led me away from the monitor and to a cubicle with an old looking naked guy inside it. "Oh for crying out loud, Adam, put some clothes on. Do you have no shame?"
"Well I didn't before God thought it would be a fun idea to make a program for it." replied Adam.
"Anyway, this is Adam," said Peter to me. "He's in charge of maintaining the human emotion of embarrassment and humiliation."
"Doesn't mean I feel any myself." grumbled Adam as he tapped away on his keyboard.
"Yeah, anyway let's keep going." said Peter with his disgusted look as we began to move again. "Everything on earth is maintained via computers here in Heaven Incorporated. I'm talking about everything, from the migration of moths to the growth of toenails to the erosion of sand and so on and so forth. Everything pretty much."
Now how would you react, dear reader, if someone told you this? Well my personal response was one of discontent. Also, a severe sinking feeling was emerging in my gut.
"So all of mankind is controlled by computer programs, sort of like The Matrix?" I asked, just for confirmation.
"Yes, that's a pretty accurate analogy." nodded Peter. He seemed to notice my downcast expressions. "Oh cheer up now. It's not that bad. We have some good work parties and our internet speed's a fair bit faster than any you would be use to. Also everyone gets a free World of Warcraft account, though I'm not too happy with that last one. Things have been becoming a bit bleaker in Africa ever since everyone in the office has become addicted to it."
Still I did not smile, even though the thought of a free Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game did help soothe the disappointment I was feeling.
"I know what will cheer you up." laughed Peter suddenly. "Come on, follow me." Again I followed him to another cubicle. Inside this one sat a pale man with bruises and swelling all over his face. "This is Geoffrey. He is responsible for the allocation of death, i.e. he is the man behind your nasty truck incident."
Geoffrey groaned and I could understand why as two seconds later I had punched him right in the eye, knocking him forward onto his keyboard.
"Oh great work, idiot." replied Geoffrey angrily, rubbing the spot where I had just dealt him one. "You just caused my Tauren to die as well as fifty-six Norwegians."
"Feeling better?" asked Peter. "I hope you are because that just about ends your tour. Any further questions that you would like to ask before I assign you your position?"
"There is actually." I replied. "Is there any way out of this?"
"No there is not. Any other questions?"
"Um…what if I choose not to work?"
"Well then you'll find yourself pulling huge blocks of granite up a slope in an attempt to build a pyramid."
"But I really don't want to spend the rest of eternity working at a computer."
"Yeah, well you don't get everything you want in life. Or death for that matter."
I sighed as I realised that there was no way out of this. "What is my position here then?"
"Ah, glad you asked." said Peter as he took me by the arm and led me to another cubicle, this one empty and with an orientation folder and instruction manual positioned on the desk. "You're going to be part of an exciting new project that God has commissioned recently: The Polar Ice Cap Experiment."
"What does that entail exactly?"
"Your team is responsible for the steady melting of the poles over a period of one hundred and fifty years. Everything you need to know about it should be in the instruction manual. But if you should have any other enquiries just ask a fellow team member. Anyway I've got to go greet these Japanese business men. Welcome aboard!"
Peter quickly darted out of sight and left me standing alone in my cubicle, tapping my foot as 'Tears in Heaven' by Eric Clapton was played softly through the speakers in the ceiling. Groaning to myself I took a seat at the desk and started to flick through the orientation folder, which was just a collection of famous people from history and how they loved working at Heaven Incorporated. Suddenly, a woman popped her head into my cubicle.
"Hey, I'm Belinda." she said. "I'm from the cubicle next to yours. Guess we'll be working together, huh?"
"Apparently." I replied miserably. "How long have you been here?"
"Half a year now," answered Belinda. "I fell off a ladder. What about you?"
"Yeah, I didn't come off looking too good. So what's it like working here in Heaven anyway? Is it as exciting as all these famous people make it out to be?"
"It's alright I guess. The internet connection's good. Supposably they have some intense work parties but they haven't held during the time I've been here. Supposably after the last one occurred everyone was too hung-over the next morning to work and a tsunami hit Southern Asia."
"Sounds like a riot." I replied before I was interrupted by the sound of loud, obnoxious laughter. I turned around to see ten or so men dressed in bright suits, all wearing sunglasses, emerging from a conference room, high-fiving and pushing each other jokingly.
"Oh not them again." muttered Belinda.
"Who are they?" I asked.
"The one in the lime green suit is Jesus. He's head of the board of Apostles."
"THE Jesus? Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour?"
"Yeah, that was my reaction when I first saw him." replied Belinda with a roll of her eyes. "Turns out he's a jerk. An incompetent jerk at that; all he does is sit around in the board room, laughing with his Apostles all day as they decide which countries will have wars with each other. There's a rumour going around the office that he only got that cushy job because he's the boss' son."
I watched on as Jesus walked past someone's desk and pushed all the papers on it to the floor. The guys following Jesus laughed like crazy.
"Jerk." repeated Belinda. "Anyway let's just hope you never have to talk to him."
"Um, can I ask you something?" I said "I've been flicking through this orientation folder and is it true that all these famous people are here with us in this office?"
"Yeah, though they're really not as great as people make them out to be. When I first arrived here I went and said hello to Isaac Newton but all he did was bitch and moan about how he's forced to look after program which maintain the laws he 'discovered'. Einstein's a bit of a laugh though."
"Right. Well, um, it's nice to meet you, Belinda."
"Same to you, and tough luck about dying and everything. You look pretty young."
"Yeah, I am pretty young actually." I replied as Belinda went back to her cubicle.
And so there I was, and still am; a newly inducted member of Heaven Incorporated. I was annoyed that I didn't get a welcoming party at the time though I guess it would be too time consuming to throw one for everyone.
Anyway, that about ends my tale of woe. I really don't have any regrets about leaving Joshua behind, although I do sort of miss my days of child-like irresponsibility. Working's tough, though rewarding in a way. My team's travelling along so well that we're on track to have the polar ice-caps melted twenty years ahead of schedule.
Of course I should probably stop typing this and get back to work. Now, if you don't want to end up like me you'll pay attention to the warning I gave you in the first sentence. However, if the thought of super-internet and free World of Warcraft floats your boat then by all means step out into traffic; just tell Death I said hi when you do.
Alright I better get back to it then. Even after dying the tough decisions never stop coming. For example, right now I'm trying to decide whether to create a night-elf or a blood-elf.
Ha! Who ever decided that creative writing should be included in the English test is a genius! This little story occured while I was waiting for/travelling on the bus after my English H.S.C exam while I thought about what it must be like to get hit by moving traffic.
In the exam I wrote some second-person perspective crap about loss and the inner journey and some other point-seeking gargbage, however I now wish I had written this insetad. Screw good results, the markers need to be entertained. They can only read so many emo-related stories.