Afterlife by Rita Andreeva

If you’re curious why I’m haunting this library, I’ll gladly tell you…

When I died I went through a long, dark corridor, with a light at the end of it, which turned out to be a brightly lit corridor perpendicular to the first, extending forever in both directions. What looked like ATM machines lined up on the wall facing me.  I approached one; the writing on the bright blue screen greeted me, “You are dead. To begin press any key.” I did.  An instruction followed, “Type your full name and hit enter.” Then, “Type your date of birth.” After I did it the screen announced, “This is how your Karma credits were calculated. To scroll down swipe the screen. When done hit enter. ” Below was a list with two columns: “My Actions” and “Debits/Credits.” The items were listed starting with the most recent one – the last thing I did before I died:

“Illegally crossed the street, causing to be run over by a bus,” next to it was a Karma cost “-10”.  I didn’t think it was right to be charged for something that killed me. I guess, death wasn’t fair, either. 

The next line said, “Saw a beggar sitting on a sidewalk, assumed a judgmental attitude and walked by without giving him anything   -1.”

I scanned a few lines underneath, “Had a latte and three pastries, instead of a healthy lunch, and wasn’t even hungry after the first pastry, but ate them all anyway  -1.”

“Supported gross consumerism by buying a new pair of jeans while having another still wearable pair  -1.”

I gave a screen a couple of swipes of my hand and watched hundreds of lines run up and stop.

“Fed a stray cat +3.”

“Used the cheapest and therefore unhealthy cat food, containing lots of corn meal, to feed a stray cat -1.”

“Threw a metal lid from a cat food can in the trash instead of recycling -2”

Oh well, I thought, I hope the cat enjoyed the treat…

I got bored and pushed Enter. The list vanished from the screen. Instead the message read, “Please wait while printing.” After a bit of a crunching noise a card stuck out of a slot. I pulled it out – it had my current photo, but without a bloody gash across my forehead, and my Karma balance of 5,500. I put it into my pocket. I was wearing the same clothes the bus ran me over in, except they weren’t torn and dirty and bloody, they looked freshly laundered.

The message on the screen now read, “You can access your Karma history anytime at any computer terminal, should you want to review it.  Please enter through the gate on your right.”  A section of the wall slid open, and I entered the Afterlife. 

I found myself in another endlessly long hallway, with fancy wooden doors at regular intervals like in a courthouse. I wasn’t the only one in the hallway. There were other people walking up and down, entering and exiting through the doors. I glanced back, but the wall behind me slid closed and I couldn’t find even a hairline crack. The door directly in front of me had a plaque with the numbers, “5,000-6,000”.  I pulled out my card out of my pocket and looked at it again. The number 5,500 was between 5,000 and 6,000. I was let out directly in front of the door I needed. I entered.

Behind the door was a huge auction room. People, no – souls bid on their next lives. They could only bid up to their maximum Karma credit. Whole villages sat together laughing and talking animatedly.  They must have been killed all at once in some war or a natural disaster. An angry French-speaking group in the row in front of me was having a passionate discussion. I didn’t know any French, but I understood everything they were saying. They were the victims of the terrorist attack in Paris. The group got up and stomped off to look for the dead terrorists to make sure they got what they deserved.

The auctioneer was intoning, “Going once, going twice, sold.” Immediately he started on the next available life, “A life in the USA, in much sought after Seattle suburbs!  A boy is sexually molested by his babysitter between the ages of 7 and 14.  He becomes a handsome and successful businessman with own helicopter.  He remains alone, because he hates women. He dies at 35 from a stroke. Who’ll give me 5,000?” 

A young man sitting next to a woman in a sari raised his hand. The woman grabs his arm, “Sweetheart, what are you doing! You promised me we’d be together forever.”

He shakes her off, “I want to live in America! You don’t have to be jealous, this man hates women.”

“But darling…”

“Five thousand one hundred. Who’ll give me two hundred?”

A fat guy yells, “Five thousand three.” He can’t help but to share with everyone, “Who cares about women when you have a helicopter!”

The woman in a sari succeeded to get her man to drop out of the competition, by persuading him to wait until two lives in the USA come up. The life of a businessman went for 5,300 to the fat guy.

“A drug addict rock star who ODs at 25…”

A lot of people wanted that one. Someone shouted, “6,100.”

I turned to the person closest to me on the bench, “How is it possible?”

The guy explained, “Some people come down from the higher priced rooms to snag the best of the lot.”

“Isn’t it cheating?”

“How so? They earned their points. You can do the same, go to the next room down the hall and grab the best one there.”

“A kid in a cozy town in the Midwest of the USA dies of cancer at thirteen, but has a wonderful childhood, loving parents, a dog, and a lot of snow days each winter.”  A few hands went up.

The guy next to me won the bid for $5,700. He noticed me staring at him incredulously and smiled, “When you die as a kid, you get twice as many Karma credits.  Unless you like dismember kittens in front of little girls every week. Besides, who wants to go through the terrible teens!”

Contrary to what I’d have thought, lives that ended early were most popular. Nobody wanted to suffer through the mid-life crisis and the old age. But to me dying as a child still seemed terribly sad. Perhaps I’ll get used to the idea after a while…

The world has billions of people in it. Statistically, the odds are stacked against you. How sad that you don’t appreciate it when vegetating in front of a TV in a civilized country with hot running water and plenty of junk food. An easy, laid back life full of creature comforts must come by at a heavy cost in the previous life.

A woman approached the podium and announced, “Those of you who left a loved one behind have an option to go to her in a body of a pet animal. Please follow me if you are interested.”

A large number of souls jumped up to follow the woman.

Shortly after one of those souls came back and sat down a little ways from me on the bench. I scooted closer and asked,

“Did you change your mind?”

“I came back in a mouse, just as my Bobby held me by the tail and fed me to his new pet boa.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay. My Karma points went up fifty. ”

“Oh, congratulations then.”

“It hurt real bad! The snake digests you while you’re alive!”

“Ouch,” I said. It was the right thing to say.

The end of my life must have been described at such an auction by being run over by a bus! So why were my reward points reduced for jay walking, when it wasn’t something I could have avoided!  What if it wasn’t supposed to end that way? What if it was the wrong bus? Not the number 7, but number 14? Is it possible to change anything the Auctioneer foretells?

I got up and left the room. I was curious about what kind of a life I could afford next time around if I chose to die as a young child now.  Or if I did lots of good deeds, donated lots of stuff to charity, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t eat sweets… I walked past a good number of doors with higher numbers and entered. 

The room was not as crowded.  The benches were padded in imitation leather and were made in small sections, so you could recline back. There were armrests with drink holders in them. I wondered about what they were for, and a waitress miraculously appeared next to me holding a tray with an empty glass on it.

“What would you like to drink?”

“What do you have?”

“Anything.”

I asked, “How many Karma points is your cheapest drink?”

“None. Everything is complimentary.”

“Okay, how about…”

The waitress lifted the empty glass off her tray, and it was now half-filled with ice.

“How about a coke.”

She handed the glass to me. It was now full of gently hissing dark liquid, ice cubes tinkling discretely.  I tasted the liquid and set the glass in the cup holder.

“Would you like some angel-food cake or deviled eggs?” she asked.

“Er… Would my choice be noted in my file somewhere? I mean, is one more politically correct than the other?” I asked.

She laughed, “I say it just for fun. Actually, I’d recommend maple syrup toffee bacon crumb fried ice cream.”

“Wow, that’s quite a mouthful.”

“It is.”

“Do you work here?”

“I am a volunteer.”

I sighed, “Beats having to pick a life for under 6,000 points.”

She shook her head, “It’s not that. I’m waiting for my husband. I haunted him at first, but stopped, because I didn’t want him to feel bad about sleeping with other women.”

“What if he falls in love with someone else, and when he finally dies, he’d want to be with her?” I asked.

“Then I’d wait a little longer to be born as their baby.”

“What if you wouldn’t have enough points?”

She gave me one of those looks, “Just keep asking things that are none of your business and see what happens.”

So I said, “Sorry, never mind… Er… Where is the bathroom?”

“We don’t need bathrooms. This isn’t your physical body.”

“What is it?”

“Don’t know. Some kind of virtual reality or spirit.”

“But… drinks, snacks?”

“Not real. But they taste great and you can eat as much as you want without gaining an ounce.”

“Is God in charge of this place? Are there any angels around?”

“No one I’ve talked to has ever seen God or an Angel.  Just because there’s an Afterlife, it doesn’t automatically follow that there is a God.”

“But someone had to build all this,” I waved my arm at the walls and the reclining benches.

“The drinks and the food just appear out of nowhere. So could everything else.”

“But someone had to think of the grand design! To draw the floor plans! To choose the shade of white paint for the walls! To write the computer programs?”

“Sorry, I have no idea. Can I get you some ice cream?”

“No thank you.”

She walked off or vanished or both. Now I could hear the Auctioneer. When I was talking to the waitress, I couldn’t hear anything he said.

“This child born in a middle class family has a peaceful and quiet life. He will work as a mortgage broker, will marry a nice woman and have two children. He will have to struggle with gambling and drinking problems…”

A group of the French-speaking people entered the room in search of the terrorist. They found him relaxing with a drink in his hand. They pounced on him and dragged him up and out of the room. His drink disappeared even before he went through the door.

After a moment I got up and followed them.

I walk back along the corridor past the doors with the smaller and smaller Karma numbers. I am shocked to discover that the doors don’t end when the numbers reach zero. They continue on with ever increasing negative numbers. I enter the room the French group enters and sit in the back row to watch.

The Auctioneer drones on, “This girl is stolen from her family and sold into slavery at the age of five, where she is raped daily by many cruel men. When she turns thirteen she has a baby every nine months, which is taken away from her immediately to sell. She dies at seventeen – an old woman…”

The terrorist sits on his hands, all pale, surrounded by the angry French victims. They keep taunting him, “So, what happened to the promised fifty virgins? Huh? You better hurry up and pick your next life, or we’ll pick one for you. Not so brave any more, eh?”

I wonder if the French took him a number of doors lower from the one he has credits for.  Of course, he only deserves the worst fate after what he did, but I can’t help feeling sorry for the child he’ll be. After all, the child won’t know why he or she is having such a horrible time. 

The avengers force the terrorist’s hand from under his butt and up, and even though the auctioneer knows that the man is not lifting his own hand, he grins, slams the mallet down and announces, “Sold.”

I leave the room after the group to see what happens next. A wall slides open to reveal a small space like an elevator. The avengers shove the weakly resisting loser into the opening, and the wall slides shut.  The group happily ambles back up the corridor, and I follow for nothing better to do.

We enter a door with a sign “Haunting.” This room has rows of slot machines, like in a casino. There are signs everywhere that say, “You must go haunt before playing again.” Each avenger pulls the handle. The machines go ding, the lights flash, and the little cards pop out. I do the same, because why not.

My card says, “You can touch paper.”  Seriously?

I’m looking around for a trashcan, but a plump French lady reads my card over my shoulder and exclaims, “Oh la la! Would you like to trade?” Her card says, “You can have sex with your husband or a boyfriend when he is asleep.” I raise my eyebrows,

“Why would you rather touch paper?”

“Because if you can touch it, you can turn the pages, which means you can read books! So if you have a boyfriend whom you want to haunt, I’ll trade you.”

Someone announces, “You can be corporeal until the rooster cries, or until 4 am, whichever is sooner, when you hitchhike in a nearly-see-through white night gown on a lonely country road on a Friday night!”

The woman who loves to read perks up, “Do you have a husband or a boyfriend you still want to have sex with? This country road stuff could be fun!”

A little man with extreme curls runs up to the plump woman, “Please, I miss my wife so much! I must have this ticket!”

They trade, because she feels compassionate. She reads out loud her new ticket, “Rattle dishes, silverware, and furniture, and toss pictures and mirrors off the walls at people!  And I know just the person for it.”

“You can only do one thing when you haunt?” I asked no-one-in-particular.

“Yes, you only get one ability. That’s why most ghost sightings are so lame,” replied no-one-in-particular.

I said, “Cool, I love to read, too. “

I looked around for some sort of a door and saw a sign on the wall, “Begin haunt.”  I inserted my card into a slot labeled, “Insert your ticket here.”

The wall slid open I entered not without some serious knee-wobbling. The door shut and it became pitch black for a moment.

Suddenly it was light again and I stood in a downtown branch of Tacoma Public Library. I’ve been haunting it ever since, the science-fiction aisle. Not ready to move on just yet.