I’m lying on the beach, just thinking about death and the weirdness of the afterlife. I mean, I never really gave all of this stuff much thought when I was alive, you know? I guess I just accepted the churches’ teaching that there was a Heaven and a Hell, but I don’t think I ever quite believed it. Especially not in a Heaven and Hell like these, where Heaven is a big do-what-you-want fest for the most part and Hell is full of counsellors giving crap advice. Like, most people just think of angel wings and harps and clouds, not sand and surf and gorgeous men wearing very little in the way of clothing… excuse me a second.
It’s easy to get distracted from deep philosophical musings, I guess. Ahem. Anyway, sex aside, Heaven was full of surprises. I think the biggest one – but kind of the biggest relief, too – was that there’s work in the afterlife. Yup, doesn’t stop just because you die! But work in Heaven is different to work in Hell. It’s more rewarding, for a start. No money, because Heaven doesn’t deal in money except for work down on Earth.
I hear a little *tink-a-ling!* beside me and stifle a groan. Hercules is nauseatingly cute and cheerful, but he’s also helped me out a fair bit in the last little while, so I should probably can the attitude. Imagine a classical rendition of a fat cherub angel, but about ten centimetres tall and covered in glitter like a Twilight vampire.
“Hey there, handsome,” I say. “What’s up? Does Prick-Face have a job for me?”
He coughs, possibly smothering a laugh. “He already gave you one, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” I say, remembering the time-space co-ordinates so rudely thrust into my head a while back. “I should really get onto that, shouldn’t I?”
“You really should,” he says, wings twinkling as he slowly flaps them. “Not that you heard it from me, of course.”
I grin. This little guy is turning out to be quite the rebel. I’m such a good influence on Heavenly denizens.
“Thanks, Herc,” I say, and magic up a Tim-Tam. “Here. Because I love you.”
He snatches the biscuit with an expression of glee and disappears in a shower of glitter, forgetting to add the irritating sound effect. I snigger. I’ve only just recently discovered that he’s nuts for Tim-Tams – I guess that Aussie treat just hadn’t hit the big-time in Heaven until I got here. Then I sober up. If he’s delivering a sneaky reminder, that might just mean that Flavius is on the warpath. And I really don’t want to spend time on that pesky archangel’s bad side unless I actually have right on my side. Right now, I only have laziness, which isn’t quite the same thing.
Fine. Time to get to work. I think up an outfit that’s a little more Earth-friendly – jeans and t-shirt – then pause. I don’t know where these co-ordinates will actually be, or whether I’ll be dressed appropriately. I mean, what if I materialise (should that be ‘spiritualise’?) in an Egyptian city, and I’m showing off too much skin? Or worse, in the middle of a black-tie event, and I’m dressed far too casually? Huh. Maybe I should just use the stealth approach.
You know how little kids think that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them? Well, if you’re dead, there’s this odd trick where if you think you’re invisible, you actually are invisible. Tricky, because you need to keep your mind on the idea – and weirdly, some people can still see past that. On my last Earth mission, I ran across a preacher and a few of his congregation who could spot me no matter what I did. Everyone else? Couldn’t see a thing if I didn’t want them to. Weirdest thing I ever experienced. I still don’t know how they did it. Anyway, I’m fairly sure that was an isolated occurrence – the trick works with everyone else. So I close my eyes, think myself invisible, then phase out to the co-ordinates in my head. Geez, I hope they’re still right. Wouldn’t it suck if I’d transposed a few digits?
I open my eyes and… I’m on a beach. At first I think I’ve stuffed up royally – but wait, the sand’s slightly lighter and the people are less pretty. In Heaven, dead people work out fairly fast that appearance is just a state of mind, so we often aim for an idealised sculptured bod, just because we can. Until people work out that they can grow tentacles, at least – then things get… weird.
So, I’m standing on a beach, wearing jeans and t-shirt. I look down – no shoes. Well, at least I got one part of the costume right. Thank God I chose to stay invisible; I’d look a right dork dressed like this. I get rid of the offending clothing and add a bikini and a light filmy robe. There. Perfect. I let go of the invisibility and someone nearby swears.
“Holy fuck – these drugs are good!” he says to his friend, staring at me.
I pretend confusion and walk away. Hmm… that was an Australian accent. Does Heaven only send me to Aussies? Pity. I was hoping for something a bit more exotic. Oh well. Next step: find my dead person. The beach is long and narrow, and there are towels galore spread out on the sand. Some of them bear sunbathers; the others wait forlornly for people splashing in the clear shallow water or surfing out past the breakers. Surely my deadie will be on the sand somewhere. Can dead people swim on Earth? I suppose we can – it’s just like floating. Damn. That means they could be anywhere here.
One of the joys of being dead is that walking on sand gets a lot easier. So I waft along the shoreline, hoping that no one notices my lack of footprints. They rarely do notice that sort of thing, you know. Someone’s subconscious might give them a bit of a poke about something being amiss, but they rarely consciously pick it out. Too ridiculous to be believed, I guess. So I wander along, searching for my new mentee. I come to a sign indicating a rip nearby and pause. Weird – it’s in what I think is Indonesian script first, then English, then what might be Chinese. I narrow my eyes in thought. Why would they do that in Australia? I can’t think of anywhere that gets lots of Indonesian tourists. Odd. Anyway, I need me a dead person…
Then I spot him. A person – male? – with light skin and dark brown hair done up in dreadlocks, wearing Thai fishermen’s pants and a tie-dyed t-shirt, sitting cross-legged in the shade of a tree on the borderline between sand and grass. Geez, could he be more of a clichéd hippy? But the clincher is that he’s also floating a couple of centimetres off the sand. I roll my eyes but head over to him. I guess hippies deserve an afterlife too – as long as they keep their peppermint teas the hell away from me.
“Hi,” I say to him. “I bet you’re feeling a bit confused.”
“Shhhhh…” he says, eyes closed. “I’m meditating.”
I wrinkle my forehead. That’s not exactly the response I was expecting.
“You’re dead,” I point out. “I can understand that might be a little overwhelming.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he says, eyes still closed. “Now, do you mind? I think I’m close to a breakthrough. This time I might just touch Nirvana.”
I try to dismiss a persistent mind-picture of this guy groping Kurt Cobain. Does he think the idea of being overwhelmed by death ridiculous, or the idea of being dead?
Holy shit, does this guy even realise that he’s dead? Nah, surely he does. The whole ambulance-taking-away-his-body thing had to have been a dead giveaway. Get it – dead giveaway? OK, I know – bad pun. But this guy has me kinda freaked out. I think hard, but I can’t come up with a single way to deal with him that doesn’t start us off on the wrong foot. Picking him up, carrying him to the ocean, and holding his head under the water until he accepts that something weird is going on here, for example: totally the wrong approach.
Then again, circumstances have been conspiring lately to remind me that time is immaterial when you don’t have a meat body. I sigh, realising that there’s only one logical response. I sit down, cross my legs, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Might as well meditate until he’s willing to jump aboard the reality train.
Hours of silence later, the sun is starting to set, and the air temperature drops a little. Not really a problem when you’re dead, but it’s enough to bring me out of the trance I’d somehow managed to get into. I open my eyes. The hippie bloke is staring at me.
“Who are you?” he asks.
Finally. A question. Progress.
“I’m Linda,” I say. “Think of me as… your guide to the afterlife.”
He screws up his face in a look of confusion, then waves a hand through me. Ugh. I hate it when people do that.
“You’re my spirit guide?”
I roll my eyes. Geez freaking Louise. “That’ll do,” I tell him.
“Whoa,” he says. “I’m so glad I came on this spiritual retreat. It’s been so rewarding.”
“Might have been more rewarding if you hadn’t died,” I point out.
“You’re dead, dude.”
He shakes his head. “Nah, I just managed to slow my biological processes until I appeared dead. It’s a common mistake that the unenlightened make. Awesome progress, huh?”
I rub my temples gently. This guy is giving me a headache. “You’re also see-through,” I point out. Now that’s a common mistake that dead people make.
He looks down at his body – and the strands of grass clearly visible through it – and gasps. “What the hell?” he yells.
Thank all that’s holy, the majority of beachgoers have wandered off to find dinner or alcohol or whatever. Otherwise we’d have some seriously freaked-out onlookers right now.
“Sorry,” I tell him. “Life’s a beach, and then you die – am I right?”
He summons the ghost of a smile.
Want to read more? I’m serialising the first draft of Dead in Paradise over on Patreon – and patrons will also receive the completed ebook before it’s available in retail stores.