Episode 1: Dying Without Trying (Part 1):
It all started on one fateful day in the small town of Kicksburg, Montana - a small town so small that you could've invited the entire population over for Thanksgiving dinner and (provided you owned a mansion or at least a big yard) still had enough room for everyone to sit down. Today was by no means a holiday in any sense of the word, though it had been three days since a massive local event had transpired, and the people of the town were still reorienting themselves after partying hard. What event had this been? None other than the ceremony of local celebrity Mark Simmons getting legally married for the first time in his life.
But I'm sure you all have read more than enough about that guy at this point.
Instead our main protagonist is a fellow citizen who wasn't as wealthy as Mark, but was nonetheless quite happy with his peaceful, blue-collar existence. He was a young man by the name of Ike, in his thirties with a physical appearance comparable to that of Phil Collins (more accurately the way he looked in 1981). As for today, he was busying himself strolling about town and running errands for his family. Unlike most of the civilians, he had already readjusted to his normal lifestyle.
However, such was clearly not the case for a few of the more lowly folks. What remained of their rowdy party-animal-esque attitudes from the recent wedding was still showing through. As Ike kept moving along, minding his own business, he tried as best as he could to pay them no mind, that is until he passed by a jewelry shop and was immediately taken by surprise as a bullet whizzed by and shattered the window adjacent to him. He looked to his left to find a couple of thugs across the street in a heated argument (clearly still wound up and easily triggered as a side effect of all that partying), each with a pistol at the ready as they stared each other down.
"You take that back right now, you bastard!" One thug yelled.
"Make me!" The other yelled back.
"Don't tempt me, fucker! Or I'll... !" The first thug threatened, only to be cut off as his opponent ran up to him at a deceptively high speed and knocked him to the ground with an uppercut to the face.
The downed thug immediately swept his leg to knock his enemy to the ground and quickly stood up, pointing his pistol down at him. The second thug then fired off his own gun, intentionally aiming beside his opponent's face to avoid killing him. This was enough to make him look in the direction of the bullet, giving the shooter just enough time to get up and hurry off.
Meanwhile, Ike continued to nervously eye the scene, slowly walking away in the process, though he quickly halted at the sound of more incoming bullets. The formerly distracted gunman proceeded to fire at his opponent, though all of his shots missed, prompting him to start running in order to more easily secure his target. By this time, the fleeing gunman had stopped right in front of Ike, unaware that he was standing behind him. He fired back at his pursuer, but missed each time. The fight was abruptly brought to an end as the closest shooter did a midair split as he jumped over an incoming bullet, which instead hit Ike right in the side of the chest and caused him to recoil as he dropped his shopping bags. The blood-curdling scream he let out as a result was enough to bring the two thugs back to their senses.
"Oh shit, dude! I'm so sorry!" The nearest shooter said, dropping his gun and inspecting Ike's wounded body.
Ike could only groan and pant in response, tightly clutching his torso and fruitlessly trying to hold back the blood cascading out of his fresh bullet wound.
"See, dumbass? This is why you don't just go starting fights out in public like this!" The other shooter said, having just now made it over to the scene.
"Like I'm the one who started it." The first guy retorted, "... But that can wait for now! We've gotta see if this guy's alright!"
"Yo, dude! Just hold on! You'll be fine!" The second guy said, dropping to his knees, "Can you hear me? ... Sir?"
Unfortunately, Ike did not survive his accidental shooting. His funeral services were held at the Kicksburg cemetery on the town's outskirts just over a week later, and everyone in the town (including his killers, who were kept handcuffed and at rifle-point for the entire event) showed up to pay their respects. They all stood in a multi-layered oval around his slowly sinking open casket, where his fully-clothed body was lying peacefully still - his arms positioned over his wound for the sake of brevity. Everyone in the front row would each take a turn to either leave a rose on top of his body, say something heartfelt, or struggle to do anything at all and break down in tears. Once the entire first row (mostly consisting of Ike's family and close friends) had gotten the chance to speak up, the crowd would rotate, and the row behind them would have their turn.
This pattern continued until it was finally time for the final row of attendees to offer their condolences. Among the people in the last row was Mark, wearing a suit with an ever so faint peach tint to it, a pale gray necktie, and a set of peanut butter-colored loafers. He had his left arm wrapped around his new wife Katrina, who was clad in a lime-green, ankle-length, spaghetti-strapped sundress that displayed a rather generous amount of cleavage and some matching pumps, alongside a sparkling sapphire necklace. She silently stood there, her face slightly flushed as she occasionally wiped a tear.
"I... I honestly don't know what to say." Mark began, "I mean, even though this is a small town, I still never got to know this guy, but what I do know is... "
He paused to recollect his bearings and avoid breaking down, prompting Katrina to snugly grip the hand that was on her shoulder.
"... Even though we may have been the ones getting married, I'm not afraid to say that you, Ike... " Mark finished, "... You were the life of the party that day! I truly mean that! So yeah, thanks for everything! Now you'd better go and rest in peace, you hear me?"
It was then that something suspicious happened. Ike began to feel a small amount of life enter his body, and all the pain he had felt right before his death was completely gone. He opened his eyes and saw everyone standing around him, mourning and grieving his death.
And yet nobody noticed this.
But... how? Could it just have been all in his head? And if so, then how was he receiving these visions when he was supposed to be dead? Ike didn't have long to think on this before he saw the semi-transparent lid get placed onto his casket, before the whole thing was lowered underground. He watched as the opening above him grew smaller and smaller as various heads peeked in.
"Guys! Hey guys!" Ike called out, though his cries fell on deaf ears, "Hello?! Hey guys! Why are you burying me?! I'm not dead!"
Katrina leaned into Mark's chest and sobbed quietly as he tightened his grip around her waist, neither of them noticing that Ike's spirit was coming loose.
"NNNNOOOOOOOO!" Ike shouted in a Darth Vader-esque voice as his coffin finally stopped lowering and the hole at the top of the shaft was sealed shut.
He proceeded to look around for a few seconds, trying to figure out how to escape, but realizing that he had no control over his now limp body anymore. It was then that he felt a massive hand covered in smooth, milky white skin immediately grab his torso, before several smaller variants grabbed his limbs and neck.
"Gah! Get off of me, you horny little... AAUUGGHH!" Ike managed to scream in a goat-like manner before the army of hands secured their hold on him, somehow ripping him out the bottom of his coffin and pulling him down into the pitch-black depths of the unknown.
When Ike came to, he was lying in a field of tall, dry grass, with the spot he was napping in completely flattened. He first opened his eyes to the close-up sight of a ladybug, who immediately flew off the minute it noticed him. Ike sat up, a hand on his head as he admired his surroundings. The area he was in appeared to be quite hilly, with the particular hill he was on covered in tall grass. However, the ones ahead of him appeared to be covered in some more unique plant-life. The thing that caught his eye the most was a tall, thick, shiny pole made of platinum off in the distance, with a ray of sunlight aimed directly at it. Not knowing what else to do next, Ike made haste towards the odd structure.
Despite the speed in which he was sprinting through the fields, he could still make note of his surroundings. He ended up sprinting through not only a grassy plain, but also a vineyard, a wheat field, and even fields of sugarcane and corn as well. As he ran, Ike also noticed that he was nowhere near tired or out of breath. It was almost as though he lacked a body to hold him back, and was now able to move to his heart's content. Eventually, the ground evened out a bit, telling Ike that he was at the top of the hill. He finally stepped out into a clearing right at the foot of the pole.
Looking up, he noticed something he hadn't before: a young woman in pure white robes and matching sandals that were just a shade or two more pale than her skin. Her clothing was entirely loose, except for a tan sash around her waist, and there was gold jewelry around her wrists, neck, ankles, and pierced into her ears. There was even a matching circlet worn around her forehead, keeping her continuously blowing hair out of her face. Speaking of her hair, it was long and jet-black, and it was done up in dreadlocks, each with a white tip. The woman wordlessly looked down, revealing her eyes to have pitch-black irises, at Ike, who could only stare back in awe, before adopting a soft, almost seductive smile on her plump, naturally pink lips. Ike was at a complete loss for words, though he was taken by surprise as the woman belly-flopped off of the pole and fell gracefully towards him. He nearly panicked at the sight of this, but in his hypnotized stupor, his feet were firmly rooted to the ground on which he stood. All he could do was spread his arms as the woman gently landed onto him, somehow knocking him over onto his back without causing pain, and forcing him into a very deep, passionate kiss.
That was all Ike remembered before a bell similar to the one you'd hear at a school sounded. He suddenly woke up, realizing that what he had just experienced was nothing but a dream.
"Guh... what happened?" He asked aloud, even though nobody was around, "Where the hell am I?"
The room that Ike was in was entirely white, and housed no furniture aside from the bed he was in, and a dresser with a stack of folded clothes on it, with the clothes being the only non-white things within his field of vision. He didn't have much time to think over where he was or what was going on, before the same bell went off again, this time followed by a message over the intercom.
"Attention, travelers! Our tenants will now arrive at your rooms to punch your tickets so you all can complete your trip to heaven!" The female operator began, "Be ready for a knock on your door, where you will be asked to show your ticket! Then, please proceed to the trains!"
"Oh, shit! That's gotta be soon!" Ike realized, immediately hopping out of bed.
Upon letting his feet touch the cold, hard, honeycomb-tiled floor, he quickly realized that he was completely naked. Looking in the mirror, he noticed the bullet wound on his torso, immediately getting vivid recollections of his own death, though curiously, the wound had healed and left behind nothing but a fairly large scar. He dismissed the thought and made his way towards the dresser.
"Your ticket has already been inserted into your clothes, with the exact location depending on how you were last dressed." The operator continued, "So for anyone who had at least a few pockets on them before they arrived, you've got it easy. For those who didn't, it's in your undergarments. And for those select few who arrived in the midst of going commando - and you all know who you are - quite frankly, it sucks to be you!"
"Ugh! Thank God I chose not to freeball today!" Ike gave a sigh of relief as he got dressed, "I'd hate to think what would happen if I'd been naked!"
"Oh, and for those who came here without wearing anything, then don't fret. A set of clothing will be provided." The operator added.
"Spoke too soon." Ike groaned.
He proceeded to don his usual attire - a red wine-colored suit over a dark orange Hawaiian shirt, with an ordinary pair of black converse. He was just buckling his belt by the time someone knocked on the door to his room.
"Corpse G-007! Is your ticket ready?" A voice asked.
"Be right out!" Ike replied.
He finally walked towards the door and opened it to find a portly man in a uniform much like that of an airport security officer.
"Ticket, please." The man ordered in a borderline deadpanning tone.
"Oh, uh, right! Right!" Ike replied, searching all of his pants pockets before he finally found it.
Without a word, the ticket was punched.
"Alright, thanks sir!" The officer said, "Now please make your way to the trains."
"No problem." Ike replied, fast-walking off in the direction that the officer's thumb was pointing.
Navigating through the crowds of people, Ike managed to find a platform with two subway trains taking off in the same direction. Each train had a line leading up to it, but there was no indication as to why there were two lines in the first place. With no other choice, Ike made his way towards the nearest officer, who was standing between the lines.
"Excuse me, sir. Uh, which train am I supposed to board? Does it not matter, or... ?" He asked.
"Well that depends. Were you in the midst of a career before you got here?" The officer asked in reply.
"Er, no, not necessarily. I was just living off the paid gigs I received here and there." Ike replied, a hint of embarrassment in his tone.
"Then you'd best go to the train on your left. It's for people who were unemployed or were working a freelance job at the time of their death." The officer replied, pointing in the appropriate direction.
"Thanks!" Ike replied, hurriedly stepping into the correct line, "... Wait a minute... death?"
Before his question could be answered, the officer got swarmed with a bunch of other confused passengers, rendering him unable to elaborate. Ike shrugged and boarded the train, eventually finding an empty group of four seats that faced each other and were positioned around a small table with a window on the adjacent wall. Within another twenty minutes, the train finally left the station.
Looking out the window, Ike was bewildered to see that even outside the station, the views were bleak - almost to the point of being non-existent. He had been hoping to get a glimpse of where exactly he had been taken, but at this point his hopes were dashed. A good ten minutes into the ride, a white man with a jet-black jew-fro and equally dark and fluffy facial hair approached Ike's seat. He was clad in an untucked, red plaid flannel shirt, a pair of bright blue boot-cut jeans, and a pair of tan hiking boots. Despite his face being largely obscured, he still could've passed for someone (at most) five years younger than Ike.
"Uh, excuse me sir. Are any of those seats reserved for anyone?" He asked, "The only other empty seats I've been able to find were right next to fat guys. Heh! Probably died of diabetes or some shit like that!"
"Er, no. You can sit here." Ike replied, prompting the stranger to sit down across the table from him.
"Cool. Thanks!" The stranger said, "I'm Elijah Eugene by the way, but you can call me Eli."
"Ike Van Dyke." Ike replied, accepting the offered handshake, "Nice to meet you."
Before anything else could be said between the two acquaintances, the train blew its horn, and the once drab environment outside started to light up until it was completely white. The train then proceeded to slowly pull to a stop before a loud creaking sound could be heard, prompting it to pick up some speed again. As they got moving for the second time, both Ike and Eli noticed half of a massive gate made of gold and platinum, presumably having been opened. Just a few minutes later, the light outside the train dissipated, revealing the train to be traveling on an elevated track through a bustling city. Various "whoa"s and other sounds of awe could be heard throughout the traincar, though Ike stayed silent until a particular billboard caught his eye as they rode past it.
"Wait a minute! Chuck Berry's on tour?!" He asked in disbelief, "But... but how?!"
"Beats me!" Eli replied.
"I'm at a loss for words! I mean, CNN was all over that story! Chuck Berry died not too long ago!" Ike continued.
"Yeah? So did you!" A voice chimed in.
"Huh?" Ike asked, he and Eli facing away from the window to see the source.
"Welcome to heaven, good folks!" A train attendant announced to all the passengers, "A world over a million times better than the one you just left! It's where all the dead people go!"
"So wait! I... died?" Ike asked, confused.
"Obviously." Eli replied, devouring a bag of pretzels from off the table, "... I mean, I'm still coming to grips with the whole concept myself, but still."
"I dunno. I find this really hard to believe." Ike said after the attendant left, "I mean, nothing that happened right before I arrived in that train station would've killed me."
"Well if you're so unsure, then what happened?" Eli asked in a smart-alecky tone, helping himself to Ike's neglected snack bags.
"Well I was walking down the street and minding my own business, when I stumbled across a gunfight between two thugs. And one of them accidentally shot me in the side of my chest." Ike explained, lifting his shirt to show Eli his scar, "But the thing is, the bullet clearly missed my heart! It should not have killed me!"
"And do you recall what happened directly afterwards?" Eli asked.
Ike took the next minute or so to think about what exactly had caused his death.
"Right after I was shot, the two thugs immediately apologized and rushed to my aid. I'm pretty sure I blacked out not too long after, but I do remember seeing one of them dig the bullet out of my chest..." He explained further, only to get cut off.
"Aha! Right there!" Eli replied, "See, you're not supposed to remove a bullet or knife if you've been attacked by one, because it'll cause you to bleed out a lot more quickly. No wonder you couldn't be saved!"
"Well in that case, I guess I'm stuck here for good then." Ike shrugged in defeat as he sat back in his chair, "Care to explain what happened to you?"
"I was buying my son a Nintendo Switch for his fifth birthday, but when I was making the purchase, I got a big-ass paper-cut on the receipt." Eli replied, flipping Ike off non-maliciously so he could get a glimpse of the cut.
"And I thought celebrities died for dumb reasons." Ike muttered, before speaking up, "Um, if you don't mind me asking, just how in the blue hell does someone die from a paper-cut of all things?"
"It's because I have hemophilia. It's a rare medical condition that prevents your blood from clotting, resulting in an unusually high amount of blood leaking out whenever you're wounded. People who have this disease always have to carry around a special powder that clots their blood for them, but of course that was the one day on which I forgot mine!" Eli explained, "So I ended up bleeding to death in front of that very hot transvestite cashier who I would've totally been willing to cheat on my wife with, and my son didn't get the game system he'd been begging for."
Ike cringed at that last sentence.
"Well at least you won't need to worry about forgetting that powder anymore." He replied.
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Eli replied.
"Attention, passengers!" A feminine voice announced over the speakers, startling the two men, "We have completed seventy-five percent of our one-way journey, and we hope you enjoyed the ride! For the passengers on this particular train, our attendants will drop off some required forms for you to fill out in order to become eligible for the P.I.P., or Posthumous Insurance Program! It's basically a way to keep yourselves financially secure during your permanent stay here in heaven! After all, just because you're dead doesn't suddenly make everything free!"
In no time flat, an attendant arrived and placed two slips of paper and two ballpoint pens onto the small table, while also take the time to collect all the emptied snack bags.
"Alrighty then." Ike said, clicking his pen and immediately letting his eyes scan down the form, "So... name and signature. Ike... Van... Dyke. There we go. Birthday? April 1st 1980, age 38. Write down occupation here, leave blank if unemployed..."
"What was your job?" Eli asked, curiosity marring his tone, "I was a construction worker, but I got fired for swearing on the job a few times too many."
"Hah! Go figure!" Ike replied, "But as for me, a lot of people told me I had a good speaking voice, so I basically paid my bills via speaking gigs at various events. In fact, just a few days ago I was the preacher at a wedding. And since the groom had a very wealthy inheritance, the income I got from that was massive."
"Heh, getting paid just by talking? Sounds like a pretty easy life if you ask me." Eli said, briefly imagining himself in that role, "Only downside is that the pay might not always be consistent."
"Eh, that was never an issue for me. Since my job was freelance, I was able to set my minimum wage for myself, and I made sure to set it at a decent level for both myself and whoever hired me." Ike replied.
After another thirty minutes of chatting and completing their forms, the two acquaintances were briefly startled at the feeling of their train pulling to a stop. Looking out the window, they could tell that they had stopped at a new train station, and looking out the windows of said station revealed nothing but a glowing white sky. The sound of the airtight seal on the train doors being broken permeated their ears, followed by the sound of many footsteps of disembarking passengers.
"You ready to start a new afterlife?" Eli asked his new friend as he stood up.
"No readier than you are." Ike replied, slight apprehensiveness marring his tone.
Ike and Eli got off the train together and followed the crowd throughout the lone, narrow hallway until they reached a massive assembly area full of standard-looking fold-up chairs - each one with a name on them. Not long after conveniently sitting down next to each other, the two men noticed an old man in white robes with a balding head and a long, thick, gray beard obscuring most of his face. A pair of angelic wings was attached to his back, and a glimmering gold halo was positioned just above his head. As he stepped up to the podium on stage, a spotlight immediately aimed itself right at him, and a soprano choir could be heard in the background.
"Alright, chorus! That's enough!" The man said, waving his hand dismissively as the choir obeyed his command, "Greetings, travelers! I am none other than the Creator himself! The one and only... God! ... I would've sent in Jesus, but I'm sure not all of you believe in that guy."
Some of the audience members yawned and rolled their eyes while a few chuckles could be heard amongst the almost complete silence.
"Regardless, welcome to heaven, folks! A place not too different than where you once were, aside from the fact that nothing can hurt or kill you anymore!" God continued, "Observe!"
He pulled out a remote and pressed the single button on it, opening up the panels in the ceiling and causing a one-ton anvil to drop onto the head of each audience member. Everyone screamed during impact, but soon got quiet when they realized that the anvils hadn't even left a scratch on them, instead shattering to pieces.
What the hell?! Ike thought to himself as he examined his unharmed body.
"I take it you're impressed, eh? There's a big reason why they call this a better place than Earth!" God said, "Anyhow, at this moment in time, you have completed your voyage to heaven after your untimely demises, and are now almost ready to be released so you can enjoy your afterlives! But first, it's crucial for me to provide you with a detailed explanation of the P.I.P. system."
Immediately, the crowd burst forth into a chorus of "boo"s, with some people even resorting to tossing eggs and tomatoes at God.
"Boo! Fuck the P.I.P.! Just let us outta here already!" An obese man with a gruff voice was heard to shout over all the noise.
"Now now, c'mon everyone! This won't take too long, I promise! Now! Assuming the attendants on that train ride weren't slacking off, you should've been given a form to sign in order to place yourself in this program." God explained, "Since all of you were either unemployed or working a freelance career at the time of your death, you will not be required to work at all while you're here. Instead, you'll receive weekly paychecks in the mail at your residence, which will be the equivalent to the average salary earned from an upper-middle-class job."
A few "ooh"s and "ah"s could be heard amongst the crowd, signifying their approval of this plan.
"Yeah, I see you all seem to like this idea, huh? But I digress. Seeing how you all have filled in your forms, I'd like to ask that you pass them down to the end of your row, and the attendant will collect them all." God said, prompting everyone to do just that, "Now you may have also heard me mention residences during that explanation. So why don't I inform you of those now?"
"Boo!" The fat man shouted again, "You said that was it, you goddamn liar!"
"Hey, man. Words hurt." God replied curtly, "Anywho, if you all were to take a look under your seat, you will notice a key sitting on the floor. It will work on both your car and your house. The former is waiting outside in the parking lot, where it automatically appeared after you were declared dead. And the latter has been given a designated address. Upon arriving there, simply stick that key in the ground and the very house you last lived in will automatically appear."
Ike was busying himself examining the key when the sound of God's hands clapping together startled him.
"So! Any questions?" God asked the crowd, "Yes! You there! In the red!"
Eli lowered his hand in response.
"Thank you. Uh, so if we're in heaven, then does that mean we're stuck up here with all those bad people from throughout the centuries? Like, Hitler? Napoleon? Michael Jackson?"
"Nah, don't worry pal!" God assured him, "They're all in hell! They can't bother you anymore!"
"Phew!" Eli gave a sigh of relief.
"Anyone else?" God asked, nobody else in the crowd saying a word, "Alright then! Meetings adjourned! Have a wonderful afterlife! 'Cuz after all, it's not like you can go back to Earth!"
"FINALLY!" The fat guy shouted as he and everyone else in the crowd hurried out the doors.
With the room empty, God stretched and walked backstage, where he immediately ripped off his beard, revealing a five o'clock shadow on his face. He then pulled off a bald-cap, revealing gelled-up black hair, and took off his robes to reveal a rather ordinary set of clothes. Finally, he yanked the halo out of the air, where it was revealed to not be floating, but rather attached to his collar with a wire.
"Phew! Finally! That was the last group for today!" He grunted.
"Bah, well at least you did well as usual, Melvin." A man backstage replied.
"Yeah, whatever. I'm out." Melvin replied, immediately walking off.
Back in the hallways, the crowd was shoving through each other in order to finally step out into heaven for the first time. Things only got more chaotic as they neared the door, which revealed nothing but a blinding white light as it was opened.
"Alrighty! It's time!" Ike said excitedly, "I'm here in heaven! It's bright! It's welcoming! It's brand new! It's... !"
The moment he stepped outside, however, the light died down, revealing nothing but a rather ordinary looking outdoor parking lot.
"... Just... like... Earth... !" Ike finished with a groan.
"Yeah, but it's better because we can't get hurt anymore!" Eli replied, still excited despite this discovery, "If there's one benefit to dying, it's the fact that it can only happen once! Now as for me, I'm outta here! Places to check out, y'know?"
"See ya' Eli!" Ike called back, before proceeding to look for his own car.
To Be Continued...