Dead Again by Alex Westmore
- Short Story
- 5,000 Words
Umbra Mortis… the Shade of Death, isn’t quite dead—and, yet, she’s not really alive, either. She only works for the dead.
When Umbra’s life ends prematurely, she is not ready to let it go, so she makes a deal with the Death Committee: If she takes the role as a Handler to help those who are caught between life and death… if she assists them on their way back to life or forward to the light, the Death Committee will give her a new life to live.
Umbra jumps at the chance, thus agreeing to work for a year and a day guiding souls back to their bodies or through the tube to the afterlife.
There’s only one problem… Umbra isn’t one to follow rules, and in a place where rules are vital, she finds herself in a constant battle with doing what’s right versus doing what she’s told.
And even in the afterlife, all Hell can break loose.
Read an Excerpt
I died nine months and ten days ago.
Well, my body died. Nine months and ten day ago, when I died, my spirit was on its way toward the light when I got pulled out of the tube and sent to a conference room where thirteen stern-faced individuals sat with hands folded. They all just stared at me like I was a bug under a microscope.
“Please. Have a seat.”
There was just one chair in the middle of the room and it faced them. I glanced around the room before sitting down in it. This so reminded me of the many times I was sent to the Principal’s office. “Where am I?”
“You are currently in the meeting room of the Death Committee.
“Umm…so I’m dead?”
“Yes, Murphy Cooper, you are dead. Utterly dead.”
I frowned. “I noticed you didn’t say utterly, irrevocably dead.”
He grinned. “I knew you’d be a good choice.”
“A good choice for what?”
“For becoming one of us.”
Who are we, you ask?
We are those sad individuals who died well before our time and who aren’t quite ready to be done on this planet. Many of us are the select individuals of the Death Committee—hand-picked for a job that is as heartbreaking as it is rewarding. Each of us has a certain skill set that allows us to more effectively handle the dead or the near-dead, or the almost-alive, or the barely there.
My particular skill set?
You know, I have no idea. One minute, I was headed toward the light, the next, Bam! Someone handed me a manual and told me to report to duty once my body had been laid to rest.
Yeah, that last part sucked, but they don’t want people attending their own funerals and shit like that…which is exactly what I would have done. Instead, I read up on my job and all the myriads of don’t do’s until they came to get me for my first job.
I am a Handler.
My job is to help the living want to stay alive. You know those people who say their lives have flashed before their eyes? I’m the one who hands them the popcorn as they watch it.
Our job is to show those who are not yet supposed to die the reasons why they need to fight to survive. That’s the best part of this gig: keeping people alive…or at least, keeping them wanting to be alive. One way of doing that is to present what we call The Show.
The Show was someone’s great idea of jarring people awake. It reminds everyone of the goodness in his or her life, in the things worth fighting for. It reminds them of who and what they might be leaving behind.
That’s my gig.
I wasn’t ready and didn’t want to go, but even the Handler who came for me said I was too far gone to be saved. Too far gone? Any idea how it felt to hear those words? I wasn’t ready to be too far gone. I had my whole life ahead of me, you know? Oh man, I begged. I threatened. I wept. But in the end I walked down that tube just like everyone else does, only I am pretty sure I kicked and screamed more than the average dead Joe. I mean, there were places to go, people to see, shit to do, and I would never do any of it. Ever. It just pissed me off like nobody’s business.
That anger attracted the attention of the DC. They sent my Handler to round me up and bring me posthaste to the Committee. So, I followed him away from the light and to a large conference room where I was introduced to the thirteen of them.
They told me if I was willing to be a Handler for a year and a day, I could return to life in the body of someone who was on their way down the tube.
“Sign me up,” I said. “What do I have to do?”
So they explained their proposition to me. Save those I can and help those I can’t.
Right now, I needed to save one of these poor people wrapped up in metal.
I looked around and realized I was at the scene of a horrific three-car crash. I gave a finger wave to one of my colleagues who was already talking to one of the near dead. Death was coming for a number of these poor people. Some would see The Show and live. Others were too far gone and would merely follow the Handler and his or her lantern to the end.
When I first started the job, I would get seriously bummed about those who left the earth too soon. I mean, there’s nothing sadder than young death. But then, when I realized how it all went down and that the process of death was efficiently planned, I felt better about it. We come into this world quite often, haphazardly. Sometimes wanted. Sometimes not. Sometimes planned. Sometimes not. How efficient is that? At least in death, there’s protocol. A freaking plan. A committee for God’s sake.
Kneeling down to peer into the window of the overturned Toyota, I saw a young woman hanging upside down in the passenger seat, blood dripping from a gash in her forehead. The driver’s seat was empty.
“At least yours still has his head,” said Amicus Vitae through the other busted window.
Amicus Vitae means Friend of Life. He was as close to being an angel as any of us and was the first from our group to reach out to me when I arrived.
“Seriously?” I said, rising up. I heard the sirens in the distance.
“Yes. Something came through the windshield and snikt! Cut it clean off.”
“Ugh. Well good luck with that.”
Amicus smiled softly. Suddenly he was cradling a child. “Fortunately, that’s not who I’m here for.” He gazed softly down into the face of a little boy who looked to be about four or five.
“This little guy has a lot of living left to do. I plan to see to it that he does”
I melted then and there. The way he looked down into the little boy’s face was so amazingly sweet and tender. “You rock, Am. That boy is so lucky to have you. I better go find mine. I think he wandered away looking for his body. You know how it is.”
Leaving the scene of the crash, I glanced around at the carnage. Death was everywhere. Blood was everywhere. We would be busy for quite some time.
Glancing at my watch, I blew out a sigh. My guy’s time had just expired. He was truly dead, so down the embankment I went, and sure enough, there he was, pacing up and down next to his corpse.
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