A man finds out what it is like to leave all his money behind.
|There was nothing unusual about that fateful morning to warn Oswald of his approaching doom. He had stopped to buy a large espresso at Java Joe's Caffeinorium, the same as he did most mornings. When he got to his cubicle, he set the coffee on his desk and turned on his computer. This was so routine, he was hardly aware of doing it.|
Oswald had just sat down, when Mittersen came over and asked for the quarterly profit analysis. Mittersen always tried to use other people's work instead of doing his own, so this did not seem out of the ordinary. As he spun around to get the report for Mittersen, Oswald knocked over his coffee. It was messy, but Oswald was prepared this sort of thing. He kept a roll of paper towels in a desk drawer, so he quickly tore off a few sheets and began wiping up the spill. He never suspected there was an exposed wire underneath his computer or that when the spilled coffee reached it, the current it conducted would electrocute him.
The next thing he knew, he seemed to be in some kind of tunnel, shuffling along towards the light at the end of. Eventually, he came out of the tunnel and found himself in a large plaza, surrounded by tall, gray buildings. There were a large number of people coming out of the tunnel. Some just wandered about in a daze, but most of them were forming a long line, so Oswald went over and joined it.
The line moved very slowly and Oswald had been it it for what seemed to be hours, when he heard someone call him. He had an usually long face and bushy black eyebrows, so he was easy to pick out, even in a crowd.
"Oswald? Oswald Dunderwick, is that you?"
He looked towards the voice and saw a young woman walking by with a pair of brown grocery bags in her arms. He nodded and she came over next to him.
"You must've just got here. You remember me, don't you? Kellie Ferris. I used to work in the budget office at Graebocks with you.
The woman did look like the woman she claimed to be, a round face with oversized glasses resting on a long pointed nose. She had Kellie's mousey brown hair and the hips that were much too wide for her small chest, but Oswald was puzzled. "I thought you died last year? That's what they told us at work. Some accident at home."
Kellie nodded. "That's right."
She laughed, "Yeah, we all are."
Oswald shook his head. "No, I can't be."
"Must've happened real suddenly, huh? Me too." Kellie studied Oswald and sniffed a couple times. "Your hair looks a little frizzed and you smell a bit roasted, so I'd guess you were electrocuted." She tilted her head towards the other people in line. "Of course, even the ones who see it coming are a little disoriented when they get here."
"And where are we?"
"Hereafter City. Kind of a dumb name, but that's what they call it."
He did not want to believe it, but Oswald knew she was telling the truth. He had died. "Shouldn't there be people here to greet me?"
"Kellie smiled at him. "I'm here. Does that count?"
"I suppose, I was expecting..."
"Someone besides an old coworker you hardly ever talked to?"
Oswald looked away in embarrassment. "No, I didn't mean it like that."
"Hey, it's alright. I know what it's like. I was here about three months before I happened to run into my aunt, the one who got hit by a semi. Remember when I left for her funeral? No, you wouldn't, because I was still in college when that happened."
"I think you might've mentioned her."
"Maybe. But so far, I haven't met anyone I knew when I was alive besides Aunt Janice and now you. Of course, I didn't really know a lot of dead people when I was alive. I guess that comes with dying young. I was twenty five. What were you?"
It seemed odd to be talked about in the past tense, but Oswald just said, "Thirty one."
"See. Almost all the people who know you are probably still alive. If we had lived to be eighty or ninety, it'd be just the opposite. Even then, it'd still be hard to look for someone. There are just so many people here." Kellie twisted her mouth to one side and thought for a few moments. Then she said, "Why don't you come with me?"
Oswald pointed to the person he was standing behind. "Don't I have to do whatever I'm waiting in line to do?"
Kellie shrugged. "Not really. That's just the line for assigning people to orientation sessions. When you get assigned to one, you'll have wait in another line for the session itself. I can tell you all the stuff you'd hear there."
"I won't get in trouble for not going?"
"Nah. Did any one tell you that you had to go?"
Oswald squeezed his lower lip together with his fingers. "No. I just saw everyone get in line, so I did, too."
Kellie laughed, "Come on, Oswald. There'll be plenty of time to wait in lines later."
She started to walk away. Oswald hesitated a moment, then followed her.
"There's a lot of waiting in lines here?"
"Oh yeah, loads of it. We pretty much have to wait in line for everything. It's that stupid 'Can't Take It With You' policy."
Kellie was leading Oswald out of the plaza and along one of the wide streets that radiated out of it like spokes. The street was quite crowded and all of the people were on foot. Some were pushing small carts, but there were no other vehicles of any kind.
Oswald asked, "What do you mean?"
Kellie explained, "When people die, they have to leave all their wealth behind. I'm not really sure why, but that's the rule. There's no money here. If you need something, you ask for it and they give it to you."
"That doesn't sound bad."
"The trouble is, everybody else is asking for stuff, too. So you have to wait in line to ask for what you want. Then you have to wait in line to pick it up. And since they don't get paid for it, the people you have to deal with are usually kind of slack about doing their work. It took me all day just to get a couple bags of groceries. And that's fast compared to most things. Just look at my neck."
Oswald could see there was something gray and a little shiny wrapped around Kellie's neck. "That looks like duct tape."
"Why do you have tape around your neck?"
"To hold my head on. I've been here over a year and I'm still waiting for an appointment to have it sewn on properly."
"You mean your head's just taped on?"
"Yeah. Tripped over a garden hose and decapitated myself with pair of hedge trimmers. Talk about a freaky accident, but that's how I died. The tape holds it on nice and tight, but a little food tends to leak out when I swallow. I've got to take my head off every night and clean in there or it starts to get smelly."
Hearing this made Oswald feel a little queasy. "Ugh! That's horrible."
"It's not so bad. I guess someone can get used to just about anything if they have to. The point I was trying to make is that it takes a really long time to see a doctor here. And getting a place to stay, that's a hassle, too."
Kellie turned a corner onto a narrower street that was one of the concentric rings around the big plaza. The buildings here were only a few stories high. There were fewer people and more of them were standing around and talking instead of hurrying on their way.
Oswald asked "Why? What do you have to do to get a house?"
Kellie laughed, "Just ask, of course. But don't go and ask for a whole house. It'll take close to forever to get that. Settle for a little apartment and you'll get something quicker."
"So I could get one for tonight?"
"No, I didn't mean that quick. Several months, if you're lucky, a couple years if you're not. Don't worry, you can stay with me until then."
"Thank you." Oswald had not known Kellie very well when she was alive, so her offer surprized him. "It really takes that long?"
"Sure does. This place is terribly overcrowded, and it keeps getting worse."
"Don't people complain?"
"All the time. The complaint lines are simply huge, but they don't seem to make any difference." Kellie stopped outside the door of one of the buildings. "Here we are. It's up on the fifth floor, so there's lots of stairs to go up and down."
As they started up the stairs, Oswald said, "I can use the exercise. I've gotten a bit overweight."
"Sorry, it won't do you any good."
"Why not? I know walking just up stairs won't do much by itself, but it'll help a little."
"Nope, not even a tiny bit. That exercise stuff only works while you're alive."
"So I'm never going to get rid of this fat?"
"You're stuck with it, but it won't get any worse either. Getting food might be a bother, but at least we don't have to worry about eating too much of the wrong stuff any more."
Oswald smiled, "I think can handle that."
"As long as you don't mind having a round-bottomed roommate." Kellie wiggled her hips and laughed. They reached the fifth floor and headed down the hall."Now, don't expect too much. Remember, it's just a very small one-bedroom apartment."
"I suppose then I'll be sleeping on your couch?"
Kellie giggled, "Sure, if don't mind being a bit crowded."
"This is really my aunt's apartment, so she gets the bedroom and I get the couch. I wouldn't mind sharing it, if you really want to?"
Oswald blushed, "No, I thought you'd be in the bedroom. I didn't mean..."
Kellie laughed, "It's alright, Oswald, I'm teasing you. We'll work out something you're comfortable with. I just couldn't leave you out on the street. And I know Aunt Janice wouldn't want to do that either."
Kellie handed her bags to Oswald while she opened the door, then they walked into what would be his new home. For starting so ordinarily, it had turned out to be a very unusual day, but Oswald suspected he had even stranger days ahead.