by Steven May
It had all been just as he’d heard; the bright light at the end of a long tunnel and the compelling urge to go towards that light. Okay, he’d play along. Eighty-one years was good. He’d led a long fulfilling life. There was nothing else he needed or wanted to accomplish. He let the light pull him in. They’d get no struggle from him.
That’s when things started to defy expectations. Instead of a pearly gate, there was a dingy waiting room with a seemingly endless row of old wooden chairs lined up in front of a wall covered in cracked and peeling institutional green paint. On the wall, a flashing sign with red lettering proclaimed:
PICK A NUMBER AND HAVE A SEAT.
NO ONE GETS SERVED WITHOUT A NUMBER.
EXCEPTIONS ARE NOT MADE.
He took a number from the deli-counter type machine and looked around at his company. It was a surprising bunch... there was turkey, and a rhinoceros. And was that a walking stick? A porpoise swished past — in no water that he could see.
Dr. Twing took a seat and looked down at his ticket:
The board said, “Now serving: 2,317,643,843,669,316,991.”
It looked to be a while. He tried to get comfortable.
At one point a monkey sidled up and tried to steal his ticket. It was then, when Dr. Twing attempted to place the ticket in his pocket for safe-keeping, that he realized that he didn’t have a pocket. No pocket, no pants... no anything actually. He wasn’t embarrassed, just dead. He waited some more.
The line moved faster than he had anticipated and, in what seemed to be no longer than a couple of days — but in reality was no time at all — his number was called. The room faded...
He was alone with a disheveled looking man wearing a tattered robe and holding a clipboard. His graying ponytail needed washing. Everything around them was indistinct. Smoke, or steam, or possibly clouds swirled around their feet.
“Yo, ho. Dr. Twing? Dr. Harvey Twing?” the man smiled maliciously at Dr. Twing. “I just love asking, you know? Been at the job, let’s see,” he dramatically raised an empty wrist to his eye, “maybe 1,000 years, give or take, never been a mistake yet. But the The Old Man says, ‘Gotta ask.’ So, I ask... Harvey Twing?”
“Uh-huh,” Harvey replied.
“What’s going on?” Harvey asked.
“Well, what do you think? You don’t really want to stay here or in that god-forsaken waiting room for all eternity, do you? Let me tell you, from experience, it gets a little old around here.”
“So, what? I’m being reincarnated?” Harvey asked.
“Bingo. Just like everyone else... Everyone,” he corrected himself, “except us lucky few who, through spiritual suffering and supreme patience, attain Nirvana.” He arched his eyebrows to motion Harvey towards him. When Harvey complied, he leaned over and whispered in his ear, “What a crock! Nirvana? Cheap labor is more like it. Don’t you fall for it. Let me give you some advice, avoid any spiritual crap. If this is enlightened,” he swiped a hand along his body, “make me a Neanderthal.”
“So there is no heaven?”
“Heaven? God no, not unless you want to call this heaven. But the whole angel with the harp thing? Not a bit of it. Sorry to disappoint, but there’s just no space for it. The Old Man’s not big on overhead. This is it,” he motioned to the indistinctness, “this and the waiting room.”
“So no one stays here?”
“Like I said, no one but us demi-gods. Yo, ho.”
“So we all go back?”
“Look,” the man snapped impatiently, “quick primer: There are always exactly the same number of souls — total. No one but The Old Man knows the exact number, but it’s big, and it’s always the same. That includes everything from Blue Whales to Streptococcus viruses to you. You die; you come here for reassignment. Back you go. That Streptococcus virus dies, same thing. Nice circle, huh? And like I said, low overhead.”
“I see,” Dr. Twing replied, just beginning to.
“So I’d love to chat, but I don’t really have all day.” He winked at Harvey. “Just kidding. I have all eternity. But, pleasant as it is, I must be getting along. So, let’s see....Harvey Twing. Let’s check out what kind of joke The Old Man has in store for you.”
“Joke? What do you mean joke? You didn’t say anything about a joke.”
“Well, you died on Tuesday. It’s ironic.”
“But there is one bright spot to going on Tuesday.”
“You get to remember your past life. It’s all part of the Tuesday package. On Tuesday you get to remember the joy of being Harvey Twing...” he consulted his clipboard, “...walk-in clinic physician to the indigent in rural Kenya. My, but weren’t we sweet? I tell you, watch that spiritual stuff or we’ll be passing each other the muffins at the Enlightened Suckers Breakfast Club.”
Harvey shrugged his shoulders, desperately missing St. Peter and his pearly gates.
Once again the man motioned Harvey closer with his eyebrows. “Okay, I shouldn’t do this, but you seem like a nice enough guy so I’m going to let you in on something: you’re scheduled for a time paradox.”
“Don’t sweat it, it’s an honor really. It means that The Old Man put some effort into your case — as you go back he has to plan a simultaneous forward paradox to keep the soul-count even. But whatever the case, honor or not, it can sometimes be a little strange for the parties involved, that’s you. Just thought you might want to know.”
He paused, scratching his ear with a dirty fingernail. “Not actually that you’ll remember any of this,” he motioned around them, “that’s not in the Tuesday package. That only comes with the Blue Moon Special. Hmmm, I suppose this must be another part of the irony theme. Yo, ho, you’ve got to give him credit, The Old Man is devious.
“Oh, and one more piece of advice: next time try to avoid cashing in on Tuesday. If you have any kind of choice, go for Friday. Friday is...” the man faded away, as did his clipboard. Harvey Twing was an egg... he was floating on water...
This lasted for a few days, and then he hatched. He was confused. He was Dr. Harvey Twing. He helped people. How could he help people? What were people? He was Dr. Harvey Twing. These thoughts circled around inside his head. Round and round. No answers were forthcoming.
He swam around. He ate organic material. He molted now and again. Soon he was wriggling around near the surface. Where was he? Where were his patients? What were patients? He was Harvey Twing. He helped people. His last molt left him on the surface. He stretched out on a twig, drying his wings. He had wings! He remembered how he, Dr. Harvey Twing, loved to fly. Soon he would fly again!
An hour later he took to the air. There were boys hovering around. Big boys. Ooh, they looked hot. He wanted to feel them inside him. It came to him; he must be a girl. A boy came over. They mated. It felt good. He finished and flew off. No goodbye. Well, now she had a family to support. She needed to nourish her eggs. She needed food.
There was a structure right next to the puddle. She flew around to a screen door and landed. She waited. Some time later the door opened and she flew in. She recognized this place. It was comforting. There were... beds, that’s what they were. There was a... a man lying in one of them. Right, a man. These were the people that he — she, she corrected herself — helped. Things were beginning to make sense.
She landed on the man’s arm and pierced his skin. She fed. She saw the hand just before it slapped her and flew off. She hadn’t gotten enough food for her children. She saw another man and landed on his arm. The skin on this arm wasn’t brown. It was tan and covered in fine white hair. She punctured it and drank deep. The food tasted so good. She got lost in ecstasy and didn’t even see the man’s hand as it came across and smashed her into oblivion. It was two weeks to the day since she had arrived...
...Thirty seconds earlier...
Dr. Twing suspected that the young man had Dengue Fever. He would have to wait for the lab results from the blood he would draw, but he recognized the headache, the flu-like symptoms, the rash, the severe joint pain. He knew them all so well, having experienced them first hand, when was it?... as it did so often these days, his mind drifted... twenty years ago, that long? It had been touch and go for a bit.
The slight sting brought him out of his reverie and he slapped the mosquito on his arm out of existence. Right, mosquito. He had to get mosquito netting. This man could not be allowed to be bit. A mosquito would transmit the disease.
It was two days later that Dr. Twing’s headaches began...
Copyright © 2006 by Steven May