|submitted for Mag 50|
"So, it's you again." She spoke to me in a grudgingly bored tone. "Um, yes, I suppose so. And who exactly are you?" I asked. She gave a slight laugh, rolled her cornflower blue eyes like an impertinent adolescent and said, "That always kills me-if you'll pardon the expression! No matter how many times you people do this, you never remember any of it! You always look so clueless. It really is funny if you could see it from my perspective." "Which is...?" "Oh, yeah, sorry. You're dead, hon. I'm your guide to the After. Again." I tried to process her words. Was this a joke? It didn't feel the least bit funny. I knew that I had been sick. I remembered the ambulance ride to the hospital, then...what? "I'm really dead?" "Yup." "Then that makes you an angel?" "In a manner," she answered, picking her cuticles. She really seemed to be taking my death very lightly, and I admit, I was a tad peeved at her casual manner.
I looked around me at the bare trees, the snow (which I now noticed wasn't making me the least bit cold), and then up at the figure of an arrow which looked as if a stencil had been transposed upon the entire scene. "May I ask where we are?" "This is the 'After.' You've been here before, you know. Well, you don't know, but I do. This is where you come when you die, to decide what comes after." "After what?" I asked her. "After this life, " she said. "You know, they really should give an adult ed course on this or something so it's not all so puzzling. The life you've just led was only one possibility. There are infinite other lives you could have led. All depends which arrow you choose. The one you see here is transparent because you've done it. You know it. But you can still choose it again if you want. There are loads of other arrows you can choose instead. But you can't see what's behind them yet. You have to live them first. It's like that show, you know, Door Number 1 or Door Number 2? Maybe you get a new car; maybe you get a year's supply of kitty litter."
I tried to wrap my head around the idea of my life as a year's supply of kitty litter. It seemed too random, too cruel. "And what if I don't want to choose? What if I don't want to play 'Let's Make a Deal?'" She paused, then shrugged, "You can always opt out, stop playing, stop living again." This was getting too weird. "What happens to me then?" I asked. "Well, nothing." "Nothing?" She attempted to explain, "Nothing. Zero. Game over. It's sorta like you're a playing piece that's removed from the game board. The rest of the game just goes on without you. Think of it like you're the iron in Monopoly. One day, the iron piece never existed so no one misses it. It isn't and it never was." So now I was being compared to the iron in Monopoly. Not even the car or the Scottie dog! I had never felt so insignificant in my life (or death).
"So if you don't mind," she continued, "would you hurry up and choose what you'd like to do next because I have others I need to guide too. I hate to keep people waiting in the After. They get enough of that in doctors' offices and the DMV and whatnot." "Oh, sorry," I apologized. "It's just that it's kinda hard to absorb all of this so quickly. Death and all. Alternate lives." She smiled. "That's always what you say," she replied, "and then you end up repeating your same life over again because you can't decide to do anything different. I probably shouldn't be telling you that, probably against the rules or something, but this is getting kinda tedious from my end, so I thought maybe I'd tip you off and perhaps you might, shall we say, take a leap of faith and do something different this time."
I looked up again at the arrow from where I'd come. It did look somewhat familiar, comforting, perhaps even a bit dull. Then I noticed hundreds of other arrows all around me, pointing in all different directions. I had no idea where any of them led, and the disorientation agitated me. This was ridiculous. What was the worst that could happen? I was already dead! "Well?" she goaded me once again. I looked straight in her cornflower blue eyes, pointed, and stated in a voice that sounded much more decisive than I actually felt, "This one."