This is not how I thought it would look or feel.
But here I am, dead and strolling towards a giant dull grey building. It is hard to tell its true colour because everything here is in various shades of grey. Either the building is grey or the climate is so much so, that it has turned the structure the same.
There is nothing else here, apart from the endless tower in front of me which rises out of sight. And the grey of course. It’s like a fine mist, clogging both sight and mind.
I’m most definitely dead by the way, it’s not some trick when we get to the end of this story and you discover I was alive all along. No. I bled to death in the middle of a road after I was ejected from my car seat, straight through the windscreen, before hitting the colliding vehicle. A strong clue I was no more is the fact I seemed to be spread over a radius of around ten metres. This was not usual for me, I always kept my limbs attached.
The last subtle hint that I was no longer living, in the traditional sense, were the shocked looking people stood around screaming, “Oh my God he’s dead, he’s dead!!” That and the whole floating away looking in at the scene, whilst being able to observe oneself as a messy corpse, made it all the more obvious.
I did expect to fly up towards a light or some such, but I actually floated back down the motorway before everything sped to a blur and, well, here I am.
In the grey.
And so now you know, join me as I enter this…oh shush, someone is coming.
“Ah Mister Bigby, welcome to the afterlife. This way please, come on hurry, we don’t have all afterlife.”
So this really is the afterlife. This is not quite what I had in mind. I mean, my expectations were minimal on one hand, I assumed nothingness awaited me. But this is beyond dull and I’ve barely been here five minutes. Do minutes exist now?
Anyway, this fellow in front of me, he’s rather grey looking. Clearly a theme in these parts. I ask for his name by calling out, “I say, do you have a name?"
He turns quickly and sighs dismissively, “I’m the administrator.”
That sounds like an occupation to me as opposed to a name. His face is rather odd I must say. It is sort of present but not quite, if that makes sense. The eyes are there but are not in focus, nothing is. It’s all jumbling about and rather vague.
I best get his attention again.
“So um, that is your occupation. In the afterlife? Seriously?”
He turns again, “You asked for my name Mister Bigby and I gave it. I’m the administrator.”
How curt, “I don’t mean to be rude dear fellow, but ‘the administrator,’ is far more a job title than a name."
He looks rather agitated, even if his features are seldom fixed, “I said clearly, Mister Bigby, that my name is ‘I’m the administrator.’ With a capital I, if you please. And I…should be more concerned about where we are headed, if I…were you. For you are dead, Mister Bigby.”
Hmm, indeed. I think you’ll agree I was quite clear on the status of my mortality before I’m the administrator here, hit me with it again. It hurts a little more this time however, strikes a chord I don’t much like. Oh would you look at that, I’m rather grey looking and my form seems to be jittering about the place. Much like I’m the administrator here.
“I appreciate that fact, thank you for reminding me. Where are we headed?”
He turns and smiles, I won’t say his name again for fear it’s a trap to forever speak the absurdity of it.
“Now you are asking the right questions. As you may have deduced, we, are in the afterlife. I am…”
"Please, I know you are,” I reply smartly.
I told you, I will not say his name again.
“As you please Mister Bigby. We are going to the Office for the Newly Dead where you will be processed and assigned a job.”
Imagine that, assigned a job in the afterlife in a seemingly eternal office block. For I notice as we wander the corridors, that they never end, round and around then up and down we go while every door looks the same. I can’t see inside any of the offices. They each have blinds hiding the occupants, or are the occupants blocking us from their view?
I don’t know why you are following me around here either but I’m glad of the company, in addition to, well, you know who, Mr Admin extraordinaire there.
“What type of job shall I be given? I rather hoped to put my feet up after dying or you know, get some reward for my life lived.”
Mr Admin turns and nods, “We all expect that don’t we, when amongst the living. But in death we still have to be organised you know, just can’t go charging around the afterlife freely and without rule or order. Especially given your role Mister Bigby. Ah, here we are, Office for the Newly Dead right here.”
He opens a door that looks the same as all the others, how or why this is the office we need I’ve no idea, but I step inside and am introduced.
“Sir, we have a Mister Bigby for you. Fresh off the line and a little blasé about death while easily consumed by the irrelevant décor of our whereabouts.”
I peer over Admin’s see through shoulder, then decide to stop straining and just look straight through it. I spy another vague looking fellow behind a large featureless desk, stacked only with files.
“Please come in, take a seat Mister Bigbeeee.”
He rather accentuates my name don’t you think? Still, I already prefer this character to the rather waspish attitude of Admin.
I do as asked and sit down opposite him, feeling I must say, rather forlorn. I turn another shade of grey, I’m nearly see through like this pair.
I sigh, audibly.
“Strangely distant?” asks the office holder.
I feel about ready to burst into tears, “Yes, yes it does feel that way.”
The man smiles thinly, “No that is my name Mister Bigbeeee. I’m Strangely Distant,” he adds holding out his hand.
My own hand wafts through it as I watch with, well with a strange distance. I want to keep his name for my own.
He continues talking, “It will take you a little time to get used to things around here. You seem to be doing rather well already however, based on your physical condition, or lack of. You’ll grow accustomed to all that greying and what not and I don’t have time to run through it all anyway. You shall just have to live and learn. Ah, not so much live but you understand me fine, I can tell by the tears you can’t cry. You shall learn by simply existing in this state. For you, Mister Bigbeeee, have much work to do.”
I find my reply is taking care of itself, “I see, well I did rather hope that in the afterlife there would be no work or, you know, hardships. That a reward was due for…"
"For what Mister Bigbeeee, simply living?”
He grins at me, looks through me to I’m an administrator, with an expression that suggests they’ve had this exact conversation a great many times. They both tut and roll their translucent eyes. Which looks extremely unnerving.
“I’m sure you did think that, we all did to differing degrees Mister Bigbeeee. Now bear with me please, I must leave for a moment. I’m the administrator and I, have a brief meeting to attend. It shan’t take long and there is no real concept of time here anyway, so I’ll see you when you see me. I’ll come back with a job assignment you’ll be pleased to know and all this, shall make perfect sense.”
With that the two men leave, closing the door behind them. They could just walk through it whether closed or open, couldn’t they? I give thought to trying it out but the situation I find myself in hits me anew.
Have you ever felt so alone that you feel utter miserable despair laced with hysteria? A growing sense that you have no purpose in the face of existence and suddenly you realise the magnitude of it all, feeling entirely small and hopeless, blind and unloved like a maggot?
Well imagine feeling that but also discovering you are dead. That is how I feel in this moment, only worse.
Hang on, I hear a noise coming from behind the window. The window has a long blind, yellowed with age and caked in dust. Why Strangely Distant wouldn’t open it and get some light, or even more grey in here, is beyond me. Anything for a change of scenery based on my short experience in this place.
There is a sound though, listen. Can you hear it? I can. Sounds like, yes laughter, distant, but its laughter all the same and even, yes, I can hear music too. Perhaps I’m in the wrong building. Or maybe there is a hope for better after all.
I have to see for myself so I get up, look cautiously around, before heading to it. Something tells me in my non-existent bones that I should not open this blind…but there it is again, the music. It sounds rather lovely I must say. It evokes a bitter sweet melancholy.
I start humming and find myself unravelling the cord to the blind.
It rolls up violently and as it hits the top of the frame, I am showered in dust and instinctively cough, forgetting I have no lungs or any actual matter, for that matter. Once the dust clears I peer through the grease stained window and try to wipe it, but being of no physical form, nothing happens. My sleeve won’t even pass through the glass either. I’m not a ghost then.
Still, my view beyond the window is not entirely obstructed. I narrow my sight and see far off golden structures of indescribable magnificence. Behind that there are clouds pierced by brilliant rays of light and alien colour. I can see so much now, the clouds are endless and there are eternal golden empiric looking buildings, stuffed with souls. They are damn well dancing in there, laughing, they pass happiness to one another. It’s enough to make me want to vomit with envy. The people, even from here, look beautiful, perfect dare I say. I’d adore every single one of them, I just know it.
I wretch as the glow from that place reaches me.
Just then, Strangely Distant walks in. He looks, strangely distant, as he spies me at his window, “Ah. You decided to take a peek. Well, brave in one sense, torturous in another. It’s why I chose to keep the blind closed. Yearning is not a pleasant feeling,” he says as he pulls the blind back down and takes his seat.
I return to my chair, slumping in it as I look through my own legs that don’t rightly exist, “Torturous? Why is that?”
Strangely Distant pushes a file towards me from across his desk, “Here, your work detail Mister Bigbeeee.”
It appears we can touch items if...Strangely Distant grins a little, “Quite, Mister Bigbeeee. Order of the house, we merely follow all its fluid laws that we have no insight into. We can touch when it requires us to. It takes paperwork extremely seriously.”
I’ve always valued rules and orders, protocol should have been my middle name. In life it was extremely important especially as I spent a good deal of time creating them. In fact, looking back it often trumped right and wrong when I needed it to. For protocol demanded it.
But here, I’m not so keen on following and I want to know what is outside.
“Interesting thoughts, Mister Bigbeeee. A realisation dawning?”
"I appreciate I’m dead. I don’t know why I’m here though and why can’t we join the apparent good time ‘afterlifers,’ out there?” I enquire, before adding, “And how the hell do you know what I’m thinking?”
Strangely Distant looks at me through his characterless remnant eyes, before exhaling nothing, “They lived truer lives Mister Bigbeeee. Not necessarily good ones, in the simple sense. But rather, they were true to themselves as often as they could be. Whereas you, and I, and I am the administrator for that matter, were officious creatures that used to hide behind archaic rules and laws. We took no personal responsibility. We did not help others when they needed it most due to our insistence on using the proper channels, which were largely fictional anyway. You knew Mister Bigbeeee, that your demands to stick to process, to honour protocol, was of no benefit to anyone. Yet you continued. Do you recall the last meeting you had before your little accident?”
I do vaguely recall, now that he mentions it. We’d made an agreement previously to leave a partnering organisation and pretended it was beneficial to a great many. It was advantageous, at least to me and a few friends. It was a decision based on a large degree of pride, at least a pride we manipulated among the masses and shareholders.
We reviewed that decision at the meeting ‘Strangely’ here mentions. It turned out things had been rather disastrous in tangible terms and a great many were suffering as a result. A reversal was discussed. But I refused, for two reasons. One, I was personally doing well out of the deal and two, you couldn’t simply reverse all the protocol and agreements so easily. The paperwork would be endless! So I refused to buckle and went on my merry way and left the idiots fighting among themselves. I was having a fine life until the accident.
I look up at Strangely Distant. I wonder if he can see my every thought as if he were scrolling through a script in my transparent head.
“Apparently Mister Bigbeeee, it only ever got worse. The administration to reverse all the ills you and your kind committed, has only deepened. To the point, you, and I, and others like us will spend our afterlife doing said paperwork to right those wrongs. In amidst processing newcomers of course. I think they call it outsourcing.”
I feel a dislocated fury hit me like a ghostly tsunami, “And what did you do, may I ask, to end up here judging me if you are so...so…”
“Oh something similar, it’s a strangely distant memory I can no longer grasp. A different shade of grey to yours I’m sure, but grey all the same. Murky, unpleasant feeling isn’t it? Looking out that window tells us all we need to know don’t you think? It’s too much to endure for long. I doubt you’ll ever look out again. They are out there and we, are where we should be. Now, here are your files. You’ll want to start with this one.”
He points at an open file in front of me, I look down at it. I hear the office door open and, well, this is most confusing. I’m now behind the desk and Strangely Distant has distanced himself to the point he’s no longer in the room. At the door is I’m the administrator, and he’s showing in...
You poor looking wretch. I stare down at the open file then up at you, muttering empty nothings.
“Vaguely recall?” I find myself say.
Ah and now everything clicks.
“Yes, I do seem to remember something,” comes a reply.
“No,” I inform the stranger in front of me, “My name is Vaguely Recall. Now, it will take you some time to get used to things around here, not that time exists anymore. You’ll get used to all that greying. I don’t have time to run through it all anyway. For I have much administration to do.”