Not Really Dead
‘Eighty-three,’ the squeaky voice called out.
Thirty-three heads dropped to stare at the numbered ticket each person clutched for dear life.
‘Nope,’ said a voice from behind.
A heavy sigh was the response from the woman sitting two seats away.
‘Dammit! – An erudite outburst from the back of the room.
There was also a small cheer.
Someone got up and disappeared beyond the temporary partition for a few minutes; then reappeared, all smiles, holding on to their prize and giving a fleeting look at the poor sods that remained before making a beeline for the exit.
And so it went on.
Funny that, thought Ralph, we’ve all been here the best part of an hour and yet every time the secretary or tea lady or whatever she was entered the room and called out a number, every single person looked at his or her raffle ticket. You would think after sitting in the same position for so long everyone would remember their ticket number.
His reaction was no different from the rest of them. His head went down just like theirs every time the tea lady (he had decided to go with this option) walked across the grubby black and white linoleum floor, stood in front of this small gathering, and recited.
The response was usually the same. Nope, Sigh, Dammit and a small cheer.
There had been one other respondent previously sitting in the chair directly behind Sigh. He alternated between ‘crap’ and ‘shoot’, but had left in a fit of pique after having his number called out while he was not in the room. Leaning forward, he had tapped Sigh on the shoulder, and as she turned said in a hoarse whisper ‘I’m just popping into the corridor for a smoke. I’m dying here without a ciggy. Wave if my number’s called, okay? I’ll be able to see you through the glass.’
She nodded dumbly. Trouble was Crap/Shoot was in such a rush to have his ‘ciggy’ that he forgot to tell her his number.
When he returned, leaving behind a cloud of smoke, Sigh beckoned him over and whispered.
‘You forgot to tell me your ticket number, dear.’
Crap/Shoot mumbled ‘Shoot’,’ and when Tea Lady reappeared he enquired about the last couple of numbers.
Because there are certain rules of narrative fiction that while not written on paper, are so old they are almost certainly carved in stone, so naturally, one of the numbers had been his.
A few words of pleading, followed by a brief, heated outburst containing several more colourful expletives, did not produce the desired result: that of being bumped up the queue.
Losing his temper with Tea Lady wasn’t winning him any friends amongst the others in the room either.
She would not budge. He had missed his turn, and that was that. She tore off another raffle ticket which she handed to him and indicated with steely grey eyes that he should take his seat once more.
Crap/Shoot nearly had a fit, screwed up his ticket, then unscrewed it and tore it into little pieces right under Tea Lady’s nose.
Her response appeared practised. ‘Security,’ was the call. Tea Lady didn’t even raise her voice.
Crap/Shoot stormed off in a rage, banging into the metal waste bin as he turned, and hurting his right knee in the process.
Seems it’s true: smoking is bad for your health, Ralph thought. Then, just as he felt the impulse to smile, he received a murderous glance from Mr. Crapshoot and quickly rearranged his expression into the one that said, ‘I’m a moron just like the rest of us here.’
Forty-seven minutes and eighteen seconds later Tea Lady called out number ninety-two and Ralph leaped out of the plastic seat, went into the available cubicle, handed over his receipt and was issued with his new passport.
When was that, he wondered? He couldn’t remember. It wasn’t important. Not any more, anyway. Dead people don’t need passports. So why had he been thinking of the passport office?
Then he got it. The raffle tickets. He imagined wherever it might be he was heading to would have a similar character who would call out his number when it was time for him to ‘go’. But go where? That was the question he was waiting to be answered.
Ah, here it comes, the tunnel, the bright light. He had heard or read something about people who claimed they had died and afterwards . . . what was the term? Came back to life? Resurrected? Anyway, all had said that this was how it was. For some reason he felt that the opportunity to confirm the story to anyone would not present itself. Unless, of course, he found a way to communicate from the ‘other side’.
He began moving towards the bright light. Not too far now, he thought, although there was no real sense of distance. The light just seemed to swell around him until he became immersed in it. His final thought before crossing over: Hey, just think, I get to meet God! From a self-confessed atheist this was quite ironic.
There was a flash and, he was back in the real world, whatever that was. The tunnel had gone, the bright light had vanished, and he was standing outside a suburban house at the scene of an accident.
At first glance it looked as though an ambulance had rammed into a car as it was reversing out of a driveway.
What the hell!
Then he realised where he was, and what he was looking at. The car was his, the house was his and the unfortunate victim lying on a stretcher by the damaged blue BMW was him.
Oh, no! I’m dead!
Copyright© Douglas Pearce