‘You are dead.’
You stare at me, eyes wide and blank, and your mouth hangs open, forming an O shape. You look just like every other person who’s sat in that chair. It still strikes me as strange—I was so sure humans had accepted death, but you haven’t, and I suppose I should be thankful for that if it means I still have a job.
I’ve recently figured out that you all adopt the expression of those clowns at carnivals: the ones that swing back and forth as you try to toss small plastic balls into its open mouth. I’ve never seen them in person, but they’ve popped up on memory files a few times.
‘You. Are. Dead.’ I have to snap my fingers in front of your face to break your trance.
My co-workers like to take a more sympathetic approach to this part of death. They’re the ones who think me thoughtless when I snap my fingers. I like to think of it as expediting the process. An average of 150,000 people come through our office each day and we’ve been understaffed for centuries now; can you really blame me for wanting to speed things along?
You’re trying to form words now, mouth opening and closing, grasping at words and sounds.
‘I’m sure you have plenty of questions.’ I grab a pamphlet and slide it across the desk to you. ‘This has some of the frequently asked questions.’
As you blindly reach for the pamphlet, I busy myself with preparing the documents I’ll need you to sign in a moment. I can still feel your eyes on me though, watching and learning and no doubt waiting for the revelation that this is all some cruel joke.
‘Something unclear?’ I ask in that polite, yet I want to smack you across the head if you make my job more difficult voice. It’s a voice you quickly adopt when working in customer service and I like to think I’ve mastered over the last several centuries.
Your mouth is opening and closing again, questions must be burning on your tongue, but all that comes out, sounding hoarse and broken, is: ‘How?’
‘How…?’ I say, searching for the rest of your question.
You clear your throat and sit up in the chair a bit. ‘How am I here? What is here? What happened to me?’
You’re firing questions now. Too many questions. I’m supposed to be having lunchon lunch right now, and I’ll be damned if your questions are the reason I have to miss what little is left of it.
‘Just read the pamphlet, it’s very informative.’ I tap it with my pen, urging you to just look and read.
And it is informative. I’ve read through it and found myself learning a thing or two about my job. It’s got a few pictures of humans enjoying their time in the afterlife. Not kids though. Never kids. Another department handles the kids. I’ve been told that I don’t have to tact for it. There are also a few stock images of the places you can spend the rest of eternity at. Most of them are a bit misleading, but then again, what isn’t these days?
The pamphlet seems to appease you for a moment, but then I see you slide it back onto my desk with shaky hands.
‘Yes,’ I say, please that you’ve understood.
‘I’m dead.’ Your gaze fixes on the wall behind me.
There’s nothing on that wall. I wanted to decorate it with a few pictures I took of The Void—perhaps give this place some life—but my supervisor seems to think that it may just overwhelm your kind.
‘You are. Would you like to know how?’
Your eyes dart back to mind; they’re glassy now.
‘Yes, how you died, would you like to know?’
You don’t answer, but I still grab the file with all your information anyway. Whether they admit it or not, everyone who comes through here wants to know. It’s the morbid curiosity that’s so ingrainedengrained within your kind. Ironic in a way. You all struggle to accept death, but as soon as you’re given the choice to find out how you died, you pounce like a hungry Reaper.
I flip through the pages until I find the correct one. I highlight a section and then slide it across the desk to you.
‘Poison,’ I say.
Poisonings are unusual here, rare even. I normally only see knives and guns. Colleagues of mine get more variety, but they’re in a different department.
‘Yes, thallium. And judging by the amount, I’d guess that it took place over a prolonged period of time too.’
‘No idea. I can have someone find out for you. It’ll take a few weeks to get an answer.’
‘No, that’s fine.’ You slouch back in your chair and cover your eyes with your hand, though that doesn’t stop a few tears from crawling down your cheeks.
I push a box of tissues across the desk. I’m required to.
‘I’ve got a few things I need you to sign. Most of it’s just for our records so we know that you’ve been through here. Legal also needs you to sign something. It’s just agreeing that you understand that your life is over and that you won’t breach the parameters of wherever you decide to go.’ I place a pen next to the forms. ‘Sign on the dotted lines.’
You look at me, eyes red and puffy, and cheeks wet with tears. You look so human.
‘Could I just— could you give me a minute?’ You double over in the chair, rub your eyes with your palms, and let out a pained moan. I’m sure I can expect a visit from Human Resources now. Great.
‘There isn’t any time. I need you to sign these now.’ I push the papers a little closer to you.
‘I don’t give a shit about the papers!’ You push yourself to stand and bring your fist down onto my desk with enough force that the pen rolls to the floor.
I sigh. ‘Listen, I understand—’
‘You understand nothing. You’ve just told me that I’m dead! How ‘bout instead of forcing me to sign some bullshit forms,’ you push the papers off my desk, ‘you give me a minute to process this. Do you think you can do that for me?’
And there it is. There’s always one person who yells and ruins my day. I was so close to getting you out of my office too. You’d read the pamphlet, I explained the forms, I even gave you tissues. I did everything right. All I needed was your signature.
I take a breath and wait for you to drop back into your seat.
‘You’re dead and there is nothing I can do about that. As soon as you leave this place, you’ll be free to do whatever you want. It’s unlikely that you’ll even remember this place in a few hundred years. All of that starts as soon as you sign the forms.’ I round my desk and pick up the papers you tossed to the ground. I place them back in front of you and hold a pen out to you.
We stare at each other for a moment; I can see the rage and the hurt and all those other human emotions bubbling away behind your eyes. You take the pen, sign the forms, and then you’re gone.
I drop back into my chair and rub my temples. I’ve missed lunch.
I get back to work and prepare the files that I’ll need in a moment, organising everything into a neat stack on my desk. I look up at a new face.
‘You are dead.’
Melissa is an emerging Brisbane based writer currently studying a BFA in creative writing. She often writes short stories and enjoys exploring the horror and psychological thriller genres.