People say karma’s a bitch.
Personally, I really don’t think I’m that bad, as long as you haven’t done anything wrong that is. Seriously, it’s not like I asked for this job. I wasn’t even in my right mind when I agreed to the position. I thought it would mean I could stay on Earth. I did, just not how I’d hoped.
Like all contracts, it’s the fine print that screws you, not the big fat text that offers you all the good stuff. As a lawyer, I’d spent years warning people about the fine print and now look at me. Stuck.
If I could just go back to that day, the moment when I made my first mistake and agreed. Unfortunately, of all the things I can do, time travel isn’t one of them.
After I’m done here and my trial period has run its course, I’ll go back into the system and get reborn. They say I won’t have any memory of this, but I can’t imagine forgetting the day I died.
I couldn’t look away from my body, lying lifeless and dirty, blonde hair fanned out around the face. My face. I wasn’t moving, not even a smidgen.
In contrast, the chest of the body I was in felt like a broken accordion with a leak, flailing to get enough air in.
I fought through the fog, which clung to my thoughts, trying to piece the scene together from fragmented memories. I’d wanted a couple of days alone after my fight with Charlie, my fiancé, so I decided to visit a friend from law school who lived in Virginia. The last thing I remembered was looking out the window at the expanse of forest rolling by as the train sped along. We’d crossed into South Carolina a while ago and I knew I’d be home within the hour.
No, there was something else I remembered. A screeching sound, right before I flew from my seat, and then the sounds of screams around me. And not just raised voices, but the kind that are formed only from pure terror. They don’t sound human, and there isn’t an actor or actress alive who could fake them. These are the type, if you’re unlucky enough, you only hear in real life and in situations that are usually deadly. It’s the kind of sound that leaves a permanent bookmark in your mind.
I looked down at my hands, the ones that belonged to the body I occupied, not the mangled ones on the ground, covered in a mixture of dirt and blood. They looked solid enough but somehow different, and there was my body on the grass, my blue dress torn and shredded, my pink polished fingernails, chipped and ragged. I knelt down and pushed the few strands of hair away from my…its eyes. My black shoe lay about ten feet away. I must have lost it during the fall.
I looked down at my feet. Where did these tan sandals come from? And these pants? These weren’t my things. Nothing was right. Maybe that wasn’t my body?
I moved my fingers to its chin and turned it toward me, revealing my full face, then yanked back quickly. I stumbled in my effort to put some distance between us, even though I couldn’t seem to look away.
I heard sirens in the distance, a lot of them, all combining to form the sound of dread. One siren could be anything. This many always meant something bad.
But I’d already known that.
I forced myself to look up and take in the scene. I’d been thrown thirty or so feet from the wreck. The streamlined train now resembled a shape closer to a discarded straw wrapper. There were more bodies laid out around its perimeter and a few people, dazed and limping around, not far from the wreck.
“Hello?” I screamed but no one turned toward me. Maybe they were in shock?
“They can’t hear you.”
I was startled by the nasally male voice coming from right beside me. I heard him clear his throat before he spoke again.
“Your human body is dead, Camilla. We don’t have much time and there are decisions to be made.” His pen tapped, tapped, tapped on the clip board he was holding and I clenched my hands to stop myself from ripping the makeshift drum from his fidgeting hands so I could think clearly. I felt agitated and raw.
“Am I having a psychotic break from reality?” I asked as I turned to look at him. He was small of stature and wore Coke-bottle black framed glasses. He looked down at his digital watch and then back at me, with barely restrained impatience. I knew the expression well; I was usually the one wearing it.
“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to give you the short version. You seem to be routed for express, so there simply isn’t enough time to get into all the nitty gritty contract details—”
“That body is, yes. You can choose to move on or—”
“Move on?” What was this strange little man speaking of? He was as odd as the situation, with bright red hair jutting this way and that from untamed cowlicks.
Maybe I was already in the hospital and under heavy medication.
“Yes, heaven, hell, perhaps somewhere in between. It isn’t my department so I’m not privy to those details, or what happens after this point, just that there is something. So, you can stay on here or move on.”
I reached out a hand and grabbed his arm. Solid. He looked down at where I touched him with unconcealed distaste at the contact but didn’t comment. I didn’t let go, just squeezed tighter. He felt like he was really here.
“Who are you? Are you an angel or something?” Maybe I was really dead. This isn’t what I’d expected though. Where were the bright lights and people to welcome me? And his delivery needed some work.
“I told you, I have nothing to do with that. I’m not an angel. I’m Harold.”
“If you aren’t an angel, what are you?”
“I run the agency Unknown Forces of the Universe.”
“And why would I want to remain here, as a ghost, working for you, whatever it is you are?” This was too bizarre to be real. No pearly gates or Grandma and Grandpa welcoming me, just a strange little red haired man? I had to be lying in a coma somewhere, drugged to the gills. I was hoping I was, because if this was death, a lot of people, including me, were going to be seriously disappointed.
He clucked his tongue as if having to explain all this was a bother. “No, not as a ghost. With a normal body. Why? Because I’m going to offer you a chance to make this world a better place. To fix the wrongs of the universe. This is quite a huge opportunity. I only recruit once or twice a decade and I can’t remember the last time a human got the opportunity.”
“I don’t like this dream. This is why I didn’t take the pain pills when I got hurt last summer. They gave me the worst nightmares ever.”
“This is not a dream.”
“How do I know that?” I probably shouldn’t argue with him, but it was my nature. This was a dream. I should just change it. Couldn’t I do that? If I was making this up, I was in control.
“Look at that.” He motioned to my body like I hadn’t noticed it or been staring already. “That is your dead human form.”
“No, that’s just a double of me made up by my mind.” It had to be.
“Do you remember the pain?”
I shuddered as I thought of it. When the train screeched to a halt and I went flying through the air, right before everything went black, there had been a moment of pure agony, the kind that made you forget your name, your life, just made you wish for death, nothingness.
“If it was a dream, you would have woken. The human mind can’t handle the idea of its own death, even in a dream. Do you understand me? You would’ve woken. Technically, you are dead. At least your mortal frame is.”
He was right. If I were dreaming, I should’ve woken. I couldn’t escape the logic.
I was dead.
I dropped to the ground, losing the strength in my new legs.
“Now, will you work for me?”
“I don’t want to be dead. I don’t want to fix anything.”
I just wanted to crawl back into my body and go on with my life. I wanted to get married next week, instead of being put in the ground. I wanted Charlie to wrap his arms around me as I told him how sorry I was. He needed to know I hadn’t meant any of it. He’d been acting strange lately and I’d lost patience with him. I wanted to go to court on Monday and dazzle the jury with the defense I’d been working on for the last month.
I didn’t want to move on. I wasn’t finished!
“Before you choose, it also means possibly finding your murderer.”
“The train was tampered with.”
I’d loved my life, my family, Charles, everything. I was twenty-seven years old with a brilliant career ahead of me and someone had just stolen what would’ve been the best times of my life. I’d never be a judge or have kids. I didn’t have any siblings. Who would take care of my parents as they aged?
Anger churned and welled up inside of me, growing into something I’d never experienced before. Pure rage.
Then rage answered the question. For the first time in my life, I let anger control me. And if I were to be honest, desperation as well. It wasn’t my time, not yet, not now, and if I had to claw my way back in, I would.
“Yes, I will.”
“Would you like some more details?” Harold asked, pushing up the glasses that had started to slide down his long thin nose.
“You said I’d have a body? I won’t be a ghost, right?”
“Just tell me where I sign.”
He held out his clipboard with an x marking the spot. “We need to leave now. Your current form is already in the process of becoming corporeal and this isn’t a good place for the transition.”
I watched as the lights of the police cars and fire engines started to glow in the distance, and I was sure that seeing my body bagged was something that would haunt me.
“I’ve got some details to handle first.” I didn’t know what I was going to do. How was I going to explain this to Charlie? I felt at my pockets for my car keys and then I remembered they were on my other body.
“No.” Harold’s thin hand manacled my wrist, as I made a move toward it. “We need to leave now.”
“I need to get my things.” I tried to yank my wrist free and realized he was deceptively strong.
“They aren’t your things. They belong to the mortal crust lying there.” His eyes shifted to where the crumpled lifeless form lay and then back to me.
I nodded. It didn’t matter as I remembered my car was miles from here. I had a spare set at home anyway and I didn’t want to touch that body again if I didn’t have to.
I walked along behind him as the numbness set in. I felt as if I were mentally drowning and nothing made sense. I followed, not from any real desire to but because it was the easiest path while I tried to get a handle on everything. I was fairly certain if I were still alive, this would have been diagnosed as clinical shock.
We walked through the wooded area until we reached a road where a stretch Mercedes waited. A man got out of the driver’s seat to hold the door open for me and, like a zombie, I moved my leaden legs forward and crawled inside.
I leaned back against the leather and thought, what am I doing?
“You’re going to feel strangely for a few days while your soul gets acclimated to losing its mortal wrapping.”
My hands, that didn’t look like mine, started to shake. “I’m really dead.”
“You aren’t dead.”
“The body lying in the field would prove you wrong.”
“Your former body is dead, not you. Well, not exactly. It’s sort of a gray area.” He let out an audible sigh as he shook his head. “This is going to take some work.”
“Where are we going?” I needed to get to Charlie. I needed my parents. I had to tell them I was okay before the police scared them. The idea of them having to ID my body…No, I’d get to them first.
“You can’t speak to them.”
“How do you know what I want to do?” I swung back to the little man I was disliking more every moment.
Harold looked at me, stone faced. “The reports on you said you had a fairly high intellect. Must I really explain this to you?” He looked at me for more than a few seconds and then rolled his eyes. “What else could you possibly need to do? I always forget how troublesome the transition is. Even if you could talk to them, they wouldn’t understand.”
“I’ll make them understand.” My voice didn’t leave room for debate. There was nothing he could say that was going to stop me. Annoying little man.
“Can’t say I didn’t try.” He went back to looking through his folder. I ignored his curious response to look at the landscape. I needed to get my bearings.
“Where are we going?”
“I thought it best to take you to your new residence first.”
“I don’t need a new home. I have one with Charlie.”
“The body that died had one. You can’t use it anymore.” He spoke slowly, with great emphasis on each word.
“Where is this new place?”
“No. I’m not leaving South Carolina.” Or not for long. Even if he forced the issue, I’d walk back if I had to.
Again I heard him sigh and then he mumble something about transfers before he finally said, “Fine.” He leaned forward slightly and yelled to the driver who he called Hank. “Looks like it’s to be Murrell’s Inlet.”
The driver nodded his head.
“You’re fortunate I believe in having options. Going to have to file more paperwork now.” He shuffled through the small stack on his lap.
I didn’t care. I’d be right where I needed to be. Beyond that, nothing mattered. I’d figure out the rest after I got to Charlie and my parents.
Harold settled back and then reached into a briefcase I hadn’t noticed before.
“Here.” He shoved a cell phone with a charger into my hand along with a key. “This is to your new apartment and a work phone. I’m already programmed in, as well as some of the other contacts you’ll need.”
I took the key, not bothering to tell him I didn’t need a place to stay again. It didn’t matter what he said. I was going home.
Before I even started strategizing about how I was going to get away from Harold, we were pulling into a driveway and I was getting kicked out of the car.
“Go in and lock the door. I’ll send somebody by in an hour, if you’re still there.” The door slammed in my face and the tires squealed, leaving dark tracks.
I had been officially dead for almost an hour and, in all the times I’d contemplated what happened in the afterlife, there’d never been a bossy little redhead who abandoned me in the middle of a beachfront condo parking lot.