Alex stood frozen. Looking across the empty lanes of the motorway he could see his brother’s red Mustang, crumpled and twisted, steam billowing from the radiator. His first thought was “Mum and dad are going to kill him!”, and it never occurred to him that everything wouldn’t be ok, because when you’re 15 everything usually is.
“Weird” he thought, scratching his head through a mop of dark curly hair, something was nagging at him, his thoughts very much a fog. “This is a dream right?” He asked himself.
“You know, that’s usually what you lot ask at this point” came a response out of nowhere “and then I tell you it isn’t” it continued, “and then you freak out”.
Alex turned to the source of the voice, seeing before him a small bald man with a warm smile and piercing blue eyes. He wore a sharp well fitted dark suit, crisp white shirt and a black tie tied with a Windsor knot and despite his stature had all the air of someone who could quite easily do you harm if you forgot to pay him for whatever you might own a man like him for.
“Calm yourself curly locks” he said, a thin smile breaking out on his face “I know this is all a shock and you want to run over and see what’s going on and blah blah blah but we really need to get moving”.
Alex indeed wanted to run over to the scene where a fire truck, lights flashing and horns blaring had just pulled up, but he couldn’t. His head told his body to ignore the small bald man and do exactly that but he simply remained where he stood. His thinking was so slow, words escaped him, concepts too.
“I need to go over! My brother’s still in there” he mumbled. That he knew, foggy headed or not.
The Bald headed man remained unmoved. “Hate to break it to you kiddo but you’re dead” he said dispassionately. “You aren’t going anywhere other than recycling.” It was simply a fact to him. He had done this so many times that he found it far easier to just get right to the heart of the matter rather than to try flowering things up.
Early on in his career he had developed a real flair for the dramatic, and relished these moments. He’d dabbled in poetry and religious imagery and had even used props for a while but it soon wore thin.
These days he was a fan of a nice suit over the effort of a hooded cloak. They were rather more uncomfortable than one might think and forever dragging on the floor and needing to be washed. and as menacing as a scythe is it’s a real nuisance to cart around all day
Alex stood, saying nothing because some part of him knew he was dead. There was a feint recollection of a party – perhaps someone’s birthday – and rain, lots of rain. After that there was a horn, loud noise and then …well then he was stood where he found himself right now.
After a while he spoke “Is he ok?” he asked.
“Id not worry about him for now kiddo” bald man replied, “come on, follow me. You’ll like this.”
Alex turned slowly to follow, his head swimming. “Where are we going? What will happen to him?“
“Always with the questions” the bald man mumbled under his breath. “Just follow me, I’ll explain everything in a bit”.
The bald man led him up a small path and just over the brow of the embankment that ran adjacent to the motorway. “Keep up” the bald man called, disappearing inside an open door, “Ive got places to be.”
Now as far as doors go this one was for the most part a rather regular and unassuming door, the type you would find on any street. It was 8 panelled with a brass handle, letter box and knocker and painted jet black with a number two positioned slightly off centre to the right about three quarters of the way up. What made it wholly unusual though was the way it simply stood unsupported just alongside a busy motorway where he had apparently just died.
Bald man popped his head around the door. “Are you coming or not?” he shouted, and disappeared back inside.
As Alex approached he could see inside into what looked very much like an office. There was a large empty hall, white floors and walls and the bald man seemed to be stood at what looked like reception desk. Bald man looked over beckoning for him to hurry across as Alex stepped through the door. He felt it close behind him and a lock clicked.
“Alex” he said, grabbing his sleeve and pulling him over, “this is The Receptionist, she’s been looking forward to meeting you.”
She looked a bit like the woman his mum didn’t like his dad talking to at work he thought, the one mum described as “that hot home wrecking blonde” and dad always described as “harmless” and “just really friendly”.
Alex heard a voice in his head, it seemed to cut through the fog. “It’s very nice to meet you Alex” she said, “If you want to take a seat on one of the chairs behind you I will be with you in a short while. I just need to have a word with Mr Goodwin”.
He had a million questions going through his head but he felt compelled to do as she had asked, and nodding he turned on his heels and walked across to the chairs and took a seat.
He watched Goodwin and the receptionist for a while, him speaking and her simply looking directly at him. He nodded once or twice, made a few notes in a small notebook which he then tucked inside his breast pocket and with that he was gone, pausing only briefly to look back across at him before exiting through the door they had passed through earlier.
She beckoned him over with a long elegant finger. Stood before her he heard her in his head “Well Alex, I guess you are wondering what exactly is going on.” He nodded. “Mr Goodwin should have explained but alas he has a tendency to neglect his duties sometimes. I really must have a word.”
Her voice was cold, he felt it not only in his head but in his bones.
“You must have a lot of questions” she continued. He nodded again. “All in good time Alex. For now you need to know this. So listen carefully.”
He nodded. It was all he seemed capable of.
“You’re dead I’m afraid Alex, and Mr Goodwin has just left to fetch your brother who did not make it despite the best efforts of the emergency services. You and your brother are very special, and possess certain qualities that I value most highly and because of that I asked him to being you back for recycling.”
She could see from his face that he was confused. Understandably so she thought, these people with their antiquated belief systems really had no idea of just what lay out there in the universe. The universes.
“Is this heaven?” he asked.
“No Alex, this is not heaven” she replied, “You’re in the council offices. We are here to recycle you and get you back out there because there is something you need to do for me”.
That was not what he had expected to hear. He had always gone to Sunday school and was pretty sure that if he were dead he really ought to be heading off to heaven and ot stood at the council office reception.
“No such thing as heaven or hell I am afraid. Regardless of which of your many god’s you root for” she explained “Though from what I read neither sound particularly interesting. You really need to just forget everything you may have been told and trust me that this is the best place for you. You got lucky really today Alex, we could have simply let you dissolve into nothing but you’re here so let’s get on with the job at hand shall we.?
Her tone was suddenly less friendly and that was not a question. Alex nodded again as Mr Goodwin burst through the door, his brother in tow.
“Justin!” he exclaimed, waving him over. Justin had the same foggy look Alex had had just ten minutes prior. Mr Goodwin lead Justin over to stand with him.
“Thank you Mr Goodwin” the receptionist said, her gaze fixed on Justin. “Very nice to meet you, I’m terribly sorry about being dead and all but it really is nothing to get too upset about.”
She looked at Alex now, he was pretty sure that they were all hearing her in their heads.
“If you would be so kind to explain to your brother what is going on I shall go and prepare you a couple of nice new bodies and we will have you back out on there in no time at all. We have a lot to get done today.”
***I started this piece about the death of a passenger in a car then thought I’d explore an idea for the Armitage stuff I am writing so kind of just went with it. It probably slots into the Armitage story somewhere, just not really sure at the moment. – Michael***