Fiction

The Bureaucratic Process

I’m riding my bike, making my way to work, when suddenly my chest constricts, I try to swerve, my weight shifts and I topple.

Suddenly I’m weightless. And looking down at myself. I think I’m dead.

What are those five stages of grief? I think the first one is denial, because I immediately go into denial. I look around. A couple people have gathered and are try to help me. Maybe this is one of those ‘out of body experiences.’ But then I see my body and I see how half my head was crushed under a car tire.

No way, this has to be a dream, or a nightmare, or a goddamn coma-hallucination, SOMETHING.

I’m about a meter from my body, not quiet touching the ground. To go to approach myself, but someone walks through me. I don’t feel anything and they don’t notice me.

“Hey. HEY.”

I shout, but no one looks at me. People are focused on my body. The person that was driving the car that killed me is being held down – he was ready to run off. I find myself thinking, oh that’s good, but then I remember I’m dead and it doesn’t matter.

I walk – float? – to my body and sit with it until the ambulance arrives. I try to hold my own hand but we don’t connect. In between the depression and grief I feel, I also question all this strange ghost business.

It’s done, I’ll never talk to mom or dad or Diane every again. When was the last time I talked to mom? Jesus. Porkchop will never see me again, he’ll just keep waiting and waiting. Oh my god, I’m so sorry boy. Everyone at work will think I’m late or skipping work and then they’ll find out I’m dead. Am I gonna be stuck to my body for the rest of my life or… shit, will I be a ghost forever? The rest of my ghost life. Fuck and I had tickets to Kanye for next month.

The ambulance arrives and I go with them. Although I can pass through stuff, I travel with my body in the ambulance. I guess I must have some sort of matter since I’m keeping up with the velocity of the vehicle. I have matter, yet I can’t interact with anything. That’s trippy.

The paramedics talk. They’re not doing anything with me since I’ve been pronounced dead. I guess hospitals have morgues, that makes sense.

“Oof.” One guy says.

“Rough morning.” The girl says.

“Yeah.” I agree, but they don’t acknowledge it.

It really is a rough morning. It’s not ever 9:30. I’d make a Monday joke but it’s Thursday. Or do days matter when you’re a ghost?

We make it to the hospital, but I don’t follow my body in. I feel numb, but maybe that’s what ghosts feel. I think about what the next few days would be. My emergency contact has probably been called already, which is Diane. She’s probably on her way over. Mom and Dad will hear about it soon. They’d get all the matters in order and eventually there would be a funeral.

These thoughts make me sad, but also empty. I guess ghosts don’t have a lot of energy.

“Hey.”

“JESUS.” I jump. And then I feel weird because my heart’s not racing because I don’t have a beating heart anymore.

A guy, also not directly touching the ground, is looking at me. We’re making direct eye contact, so I know he can see me. Another ghost. He’s not a monotone white like I was kind of expecting. If not for the floating and translucently, I’d swear he was a normal guy.

“Was that you?” He points at the hospital, my body now out of sight behind the doors.

“Yeah.” I nod, still weirded out.

“Yikes. Sorry about that.”

“Uuuh, no worries.”

“It’s been a few weeks for me. Don’t worry, it gets better.”

“…Thanks. Wait–a few weeks? What?! Is being a ghost a forever thing??”

The guy shakes his head. “Nah, just takes a while. I mean, if we stuck around forever there’d be, like, a zillion ghosts around right? You wouldn’t be able to wake up without, like, ten ghosts in your face, yknow?”

“I guess,” I nod, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Let’s take a walk man.”

I don’t want to look at my body and the crying faces of my loved ones, so I agree. He says walk, but we float. He doesn’t move his legs and advances forward like a real ghost. I’m still not used to the feeling, so I’m walking in the air.

“I hear it takes around four to eight months.”

“What does?”

“Yknow,” he points up, then down, “Judgement.”

“Jesus, that’s real?” I ask in disbelief.

“I’m guessing so bro, I mean, why else are we ghosts right now? If reincarnation was a thing we wouldn’t be here.”

“I think I would’ve liked reincarnation better. Yknow, instant, no memory of a previous life.”

The guy shrugs. “It’s been working for me.”

“Four to eight months, eh? Jeeesus, that’s a while.”

“Yep. I heard from a guy who knew a guy. It’s like, a relief, yknow? If I had to, like, haunt forever, I’d kill myself.”

A joke? Neither of us laugh. I guess ghosts don’t laugh. We keep walking. He’s steered us just off the sidewalk, onto the road. I guess he cares about people passing through him, but doesn’t mind cars and the occasional bicyclist.

“So…why were you at the hospital?”

“I was just in the area. I saw you and I figured I’d help. Not much else to do.” He shrugs. “You looked like a sad dog or something.”

“Please don’t tell me there are ghost dogs, that’d just make me sad…sadder.”

“Not that I’ve seen. Oof, yeah, that would be sad.”

He stops, or maybe I do, but we find ourselves looking into a gym through the front window. It’s a little café area and just behind that are some treadmills and elliptical machines. I don’t see my reflection or his.

“What now?” I ask.

“Bro, I dunno, do whatever.” He sounds like he wants to be hostile, but lacks the energy and comes off tired.

“What have you been doing?”

“Concerts and basketball games.” He nods, as if satisfied, “I was backstage yesterday. I think it was 21 Pilots? I dunno, songs were okay.”

“I had tickets to Kanye for next month.”

“Go see him bro! Can those tickets beat fucking, floating like right in front of Kanye?? That’s VIP.”

“Whoa, yeah. I guess I was thinking I couldn’t see him, but there’s nothing really stopping me.”

The guy taps his temple, “You’re getting it bro.” He starts to move away, “What was that shitty movie? Pay it forward. See ya.” He gives a half-wave and floats off at a leisurely but swift pace.

Left alone, I keep looking into the gym. Then, after realizing how stupid that is, I go into the gym. Naturally I make for the door, but come to my senses when my hand passes straight through the handle.

I must’ve spent the whole morning just wondering around and people watching. I do get the idea to peep in the woman’s change room, but I feel no desire to do so. I guess ghosts don’t have sexual desire. I realize it’s 12 o’clock when there’s a sudden rush at the gym. I think and I ponder and I decide to return to the hospital. I figure it’s respectful to my loved ones and closure for myself to go say my final goodbyes, even if they won’t hear me.

My next week is uneventful. I see Diane, my loved ones, Porkchop. I was hoping dogs had a supernatural sense, but I got no reaction out of him. I don’t attend my wake, but I do pop into my funeral – only to confirm it was closed casket.

I feel strange, being so distant with my loved ones, but also empty. I rationalize it by calling it closure. There’s no point in haunting them until I’m ‘judged.’ I’m dead, I’ve accepted that. Maybe a little faster than others.

I stick around the city to wait out the Kanye concert. I see a couple other ghosts, but I don’t approach them. They all looked like they knew what they were up to. I don’t know if ghosts like company, but I wasn’t in the mood. I had a bad feeling that I had been lucky with that bro ghost; I felt that others would be clingy or depressing. Then I wondered if I was being prejudice, but then I figured I shouldn’t care. If I was going to be judged, it would be when I was alive, not while in purgatory. Right?

The concert comes and goes. I float around the stage, getting good angles. I guess another ghost saw me in the crowd, because she approaches and asks if its cool she ‘sits here.’ Funny how we can hear each other pretty easily despite the singing. We both follow Kanye backstage when the show ends, but don’t really talk to each other, keeping our distance. I leave first after about twenty minutes of Kanye recuperating, e.g. sitting around, drinking water, and writing some notes.

With no other major events in my late life, I make my way to the airport. If I have another four to seven months haunting the earth, I might as well do it somewhere I haven’t been before.

Staring at the list of departures, I feel a strange sense of pleasantness. I can go wherever I want, do almost anything I want, and, ironically enough, live.

“I’ll go to Peru.” I say to myself, a habit I had gotten into.

South America is a cool place, one I’d never go to if I was living because I was too concerned about my safety and possible diseases. With nothing to lose, I decide on Peru.

Unfortunately, since I have no access to Google, and I only have a rudimentary understanding of geography, I don’t know any cities in Peru. So, I decide on Rio de Janerio.

Time is lost to me. I don’t sleep or eat, all I have is the sun to indicate day and night. But even at night, I don’t have trouble seeing. I guess ghosts have night vision? I do worry about getting lost however. Even though time means almost nothing to me, it still have the distinct sense of a ‘time-limit’. So getting lost worries me – I don’t want to be wondering the jungle for the rest of my time on the earth.

I do eventually make it to Peru. I ‘climb’ the stairs and see the ruins. Then I visit Africa. I check out the pyramids up close, but I don’t go inside them. Even though I’m a ghost, the inside of a tomb still makes me uncomfortable. I catch a ride south, then float my way into the safari. I get up close with the animals and appreciate their beauty. I follow some lions in a hunt, curious to know if a gazelle ghost would appear. It didn’t. I think of anime-ghost theories throughout the rest of my travels.

I see a lot of ghosts as I travel. I can’t speak to them, however, since we don’t share a common language. Often time we just lock eyes for a few moments. Sometimes I’ll nod, an acknowledgement, but nothing more. No one approaches me, and I approach no one. Maybe this is common in the ghost community. Maybe bro ghost was an anomaly. Though, all things considered, I haven’t see a sad-dog-looking ghost yet.

I go to famous museums and look at famous art. I get up close and try to touch it. Despite all the time, I still try to touch things. I eavesdrop on English-speaking tours and soak up the history, but I often get lost in meaningless conversations. Listening to normal people makes me nostalgic, but I don’t feel sad or happy. Just empty.

I get to a point where I don’t remember how long it’s been since I died. I can’t tell if being a ghost has affected my memory or I’ve become so passive it just doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I do start to feel a little worried. I feels like it’s been enough time for judgement, and I start to get weird thoughts about the process.

Do I have to be near my body when it happens? Should I be in my native country when it happens? No, if you’re dead it shouldn’t matter where you are. People die on vacation all the time. Or wars or whatever. Maybe I should go to a church. Maybe they have people – angels? … people – there. Like, information people. Or a temple? Or a mosque? Damnit, can’t this just end already?

I guess ghosts are a little paranoid or very nostalgic, because I hop a plane back home.

I’m lying down on the air, floating in the aisle as I watch the movie on one guy’s screen. Then, suddenly, just like when I died, I’m transported.

I’m sitting down in a chair, a chair I can feel and that moves with my weight. I’m sitting across from a woman who is at a burly desk with a computer screen to her left and a in/out filing system to her right. Around me are thousands of other duos, workers at desks and people like me sitting across from them. The room(?) expands farther than I can see, but it’s surprisingly quiet.

The woman shuffles some papers and clicks around with her mouse. She smiles, “Soul A2XH698, welcome! Sorry for the wait.”

“…What’s happening? Is this it? Is this judgement?”

She smiles, “We don’t use ‘judgement’ anymore, doesn’t test well. We call it ‘processing.’ But yes, that is what’s happening right now.”

“Whoa.”

She smiles, “That’s normal.” She focuses on her screen, clicking around and typing occasionally. “Let’s take a looksy…bike accident, hmm that’s unfortunate. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“I’m sorry,” it feels weird to talk to someone again, “But I just – sorry, but why did this take so long?”

She smiles gracefully, like a government worker but with sincerity, but doesn’t look away from her computer, “Well, the death rate is 8 out of every 1000 people, so you can imagine we’re quite busy. We try to process beings in chronological order, but some are fast tracked.”

“Fast tracked?”

She nods, “Children, victims of war and terror, large scale accidents…the elderly.”

“The elderly?”

“During one’s time on earth post-death, they only have their mental capabilities as when they were just alive. We were concerned about the confusion that death brings dementia patients, so we have a general rule of processing those over 75 as soon as possible to ease the transition.”

“That makes sense.” I say, nodding.

She nods with me. She clicks and types and takes up a pen and writes on the papers in front of her. “Well,” she says, as if wrapping things up, “you didn’t commit any major crimes or misdemeanors, that’s good. Overall a good person. You qualify for a positive afterlife! You can also be reincarnated, your choice.”

“Positive afterlife? You mean, like heaven?”

She scrolls up and down her screen, “You identify as atheist, but were once catholic, correct?” I nod, she smiles, “Sorry to disappoint,” and she giggles a bit, “I’ve been treating your case as catholic, but would you like to switch to an atheist version?”

“What’s the difference?”

“It’s a bit quicker.”

I shrug, “This is fine.”

“Well, we try to be all inclusive in our processing, so we keep away from religion-specific labels. But yes, it would be technically ‘heaven.’”

“So, then, would a ‘negative afterlife’ be hell?”

“Essentially, yes.”

She types a bit, then opens a drawer in her desk and rustles through some papers. She pulls out a brochure and hands it to me. “I can tell you have a lot of questions about this, that’s very normal. I’m going to send you to our ‘Residual’ section. This brochure is like an FAQ, and there are beings in the Residual section who will be happy to answer your questions. Once you believe you’re satisfied, they’ll send you back here.”

“Yeah,” I nod, “that sounds good.”

With a click of her mouse, I’m transported again. I’m in what looks like a waiting room for a hospital. There are a couple other people, reading what look like magazines and brochures. It’s a small room, maybe with about twenty chairs, but there are only five other people. Then there’s a desk with a woman behind it.

I’m siting and the brochure is still in my hand. “I’m dead, now what?” A boisterous title. I flip through it.

When qualifying for a positive afterlife, or ‘heaven’ as Christians believe, a being has choices of how to spend the rest of their existence; Paradise, Reincarnation, Learning, and Working

Paradise

Known as ‘heaven’ for Christians, paradise is the manifestation of an individual’s whims and desires for peace. It is eternal and can end at any time at the wish of the individual should they want to pursue other options in their positive afterlife. We recommend an extreme paradise initially to ensure closure with death.

Reincarnation

Akin to the religious reincarnation in Hinduism, reincarnation allows a being to return to earth in a new body and life. The being will not remember their previous lives or their time during processing. To learn more about reincarnation, consult the “Can I go back? Reincarnation and You” pamphlet.

Learning

At any point during their positive afterlife, a being may leave their Paradise and join a community of other beings to ‘Learn.’ Think of it as the community activity centre and taking dance lessons! Groups are small and moderated. This option is recommended for those who enjoy the company of others. Consult “Learning, Loving, but not Living” for more information.

Working

Working entails becoming a member of the Afterlife Group. Jobs include Processing Manager, Learning Moderator, Residual Clerk, and more! Working is not an immediate option after death. For more information, see “Keep busy Dying, keep busy Working.”

I think I have a general understanding of what’s going on. I approach the desk.

“How many I help you?” The woman asks.

I look around, “Sorry, but, where are we?”

“This is the Residual desk. Beings are sent here when they have numerous questions about death and their afterlife. As soon as you are satisfied, we’ll send you back to processing.”

“It’s smaller than I thought.”

“We found that intimate settings encourage beings to ask questions.”

I nod, that makes sense. “Okay, but like, where are we? Is this heaven too? Why can I touch things here? Am I still a ghost?”

I hear clicking and clacking of a mouse and keyboard, she glances down so she must have a computer behind the counter, “Soul A2XH698…are you comfortable with Christian labelling?” I nod, “Then, yes, you could call this, and Processing, a division of ‘heaven’, but the most appropriate label for ‘heaven’ would be the afterlife option of Paradise. Purgatory would also be an appropriate label for here and Processing.” I nod and she continues, “Unlike your time on earth post-death, you can interact with things here because both you and all objects here are on an equal wavelength of energy.”

“Wavelength of energy?”

“A manifestation of light particles, heat energy, and other physic-like occurrences.”

“Physic-like occurrences?”

“I can explain it, but it does require a high degree of understanding of theology and quantum physics.”

“Oh.”

She smiles, “Any other questions?”

“How does the Paradise thing work?”

“I’ll be using an hypothetical analogy. Consider a room, and in this room you are able to live whatever dream or desire you want. This room has unlimited space and possibilities. Because you are no longer confined by a human body, you won’t need to eat, drink, or release bodily fluids, but if that is what you desire, you can do so in your room. Should you choose, you won’t leave your room for the rest of your existence. But, should you wish to leave, there is a ‘door’ that allows you to leave the room and pursue the other positive afterlife activities.”

I absorb this information. I look behind me at the other people in the room, still reading, but one does glance up at me “So, why would someone want to leave their paradise to do–” I check the brochure “– ’learning?’”

“They may want more realistic interactions with other beings. This is common, individuals find that the projections they interact with in their Paradise doesn’t fulfill their social needs.”

I nod, that makes a lot of sense. I can see people getting frustrated with their perfect worlds. “So, if I’m in the positive afterlife, what’s the negative afterlife like?”

“It’s greatly restricted.” She doesn’t explain further.

I’m a little baffled, “Oh, is that it? I thought it’s supposed to be like hell.”

“In Christian terms, yes, you can consider it like that. We prefer to not speak about it.” I squint at her, unsure, “We do not speak about it.” I guess it’s a positive afterlife thing.

I look up in thought, considering all this new information. “So, if this is heaven, does that mean I can meet God?”

“Yes, the entity you would call ‘God,’ is available to meet. Thankfully multiple appointments can occur at once, but there is a small wait time because of the associated paperwork.”

My eyebrows raise in surprise, then I frown. “Why is there paperwork up here? Or computers, or any of this?! It doesn’t make sense!”

“It’s to help with the shock of death. As you can imagine, it is a difficult situation to be in. It’s unfortunate our backlog to reach Processing is so long, but people find comfort in the systematic process of it. A worker behind a desk and a computer is easily understood, thus the shock of coming here is eased considerably. Paperwork is, essentially, busywork, but you’d be surprised how much those working enjoy it. They enjoy being useful!”

“Is it really being useful when it’s just busywork?”

She laughs lightly, “You’re taking everything quiet well, Soul A2XH698. Perhaps you can be fast tracked into the Working program.”

I ignore my new name, “Yeah, the brochure says you can’t work immediately, what’s up with that? How long do you have to wait?”

“If put into earth time, approximately 35 years or so.”

“WHAT?” I yell, and I hear the people behind me shuffle and look up at my outburst.

The woman smiles, seemingly amused at me, “We want to ensure a being has experienced Paradise or Learning to the utmost. Although Working is not for eternity, we do prefer commitment. As you can imagine, it would be troublesome to train a new worker, only to have them return to Paradise after a short period of time.”

I start tapping the counter with my index finger. I can feel myself getting frustrated, but that makes me somewhat happy. This place is a lot different from being a ghost, since I actually feel emotions and feel objects.

“Any other questions?”

“…Maybe? Can I just, yknow, hang out a bit?”

She nods, “Of course! We want you to be completely satisfied before returning to Processing.” She pulls out some more brochures from behind the counter, “Here is some more information about the choices in a positive afterlife, as well as some information about Processing.

“Th…thanks.” I take the information and sit back down in my original spot.

Maybe she’s wrong, maybe I’m not taking everything well. I thought I had come to terms with death. I thought that saying goodbye, going to my funeral, and travelling the world as a ghost meant I had moved on, accepted everything – the last stage of grief. Maybe that whole time I thought I was being emotionally detached and ghost-like, I was actually depressed.

I think I’m in shock. My mind is going all over the place, but my body(?) is drained of energy.

I sit for a few moments, or minutes, or hours. Who knows if this place operates on my understanding of time. The other people in the room occasionally get up and one suddenly disappears – back to Processing I guess. I shuffle through the pamphlets in my hand. “Keep busy dying, keep busy working,” “I’m dead, now what?” “Practices and Procedures of Processing,” “Why didn’t I go to hell?” and others. I glance at the woman at the desk and she smiles back. I do like the others and bury my face in information booklets.

I feel sad, sadder then I thought possible. I walk up to the desk again.

“Do animals come up here? Like, when they die?”

She shakes her head, “Unfortunately, no. It’s a complicated issue.”

I feel worse, “But, if I go to my ro–my paradise, I can see my family again? My dog?”

She nods, “Absolutely. But we don’t recommend an exact copy of your previous life. It’s been known to cause depression for new entries.”

“I think I’m ready to be processed, I’d like to see my dog again.”

She smiles, “Understood! I’ll send you back immediately. Please remember, if you still have lingering questions you’re free to return ay any point.”

“Thank–”

In an instant, I’m gone, transported to another office with another worker behind another desk.

The process continues.

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