The Hereafter

By Alex Vrettos

Sci-Fi, Fantasy

eBook

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541
7 mins

Prologue

Spires filled her imagination as she walked, spires glistening in a perpetual sunlight that shone radiantly from no particular source. Laughter rang like song in the streets below, where happy souls played in the various passages between buildings, passages that harboured no shadows because they were paved with the sky.
No angels sat playing harps, and no God sat on his throne overlooking his realm; there were just men, women and children celebrating their just lives in a kinder eternity, bathing in the warmth of each others’ long dead hearts.
The buildings were not things of refuge or protection, but houses of secrets known only to the dead – treasures of the mind. The doors stood open and the windows were clear as crystal, but her imagination could not enter or peer inside, not while there was still air in her lungs and life in her mind, not while she roamed the here and now.
She reached the crest of the hill and stopped. The town lay below her, lazing in the valley as if it were sprawled in a crooked hammock. A wind glanced off the crest and caught her fringe in its sinuous fingers, lifting it from in front of her face, and she marvelled at the view for what would be the last time – civilization cupped in Nature’s strong hands.
She had been walking for four days now, her head, at the beginning, full of bitterness at the injustices of life, but now she was at peace. Life had offered her an olive branch, a remedy to the misery with which it had afflicted her. Her pilgrimage had started because of a headline she had found while making a bed for herself in a deserted paper-recycling factory five nights ago. HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH it had read. Now that, she thought, is somewhere that I would like to go. She was really tired, but curiosity had got the better of her. She read on:

Multi millionaire, Zacharia Mulone, has sadly passed away this week. Little known in life; he is expected to be better known in death than the likes of Van Gogh or Jesus Christ. On passing away he became the first human occupant of a world that he spent his life secretly creating, a world that exists beyond the one that we know, a world to rival the rumoured Kingdom of Heaven.
His first breakthrough came seventeen years ago when he developed the technology to store the human mind state artificially and completely free of any beating heart or working biological brain. He has used this technology to guarantee us all an afterlife, to cast a shadow of insignificance over the impregnable unknown that lies on the other side of death.
Zacharia Mulone has become to death what Walt Disney is to Florida and built a theme park to which we are all invited. The price of admission has been set at 5% of the estate that you leave behind – just a small contribution to the running costs of this fast growing empire of the mind. “This is not a profit making organisation,” said Al Jones, a spokesman from Zacharia’s legal team, “Zacharia was adamant about that. He did this for everyone.”
Only three hospitals in the country currently have the technology to copy the soul at the point of death onto a format that can be uploaded into this artificial heaven, and only three others world wide – it still takes a lot of equipment – but these numbers are set to grow quickly. So far, the applicable hospitals in this country are in London, Manchester and Zacharia’s home town, Shepton Ponds.
Legal teams are working round the clock with officials from every country that has not slammed its doors shut to the idea. Two tentative laws have been passed in most of these countries (including this one) as a foundation to build from: no convicted criminals, and no suicides are to be allowed admittance. “Life is a precious thing,” said Al Jones, “it must be protected and not be seen to lose importance in the face of a guaranteed future beyond.”

She could have wept. How long could this life keep her in its tortuous grasp? To have hope like that offered to her and then pulled out from under her brought much of what she’d escaped in life back to her, and she cried herself to sleep that night. She dreamt of death as a kindly stranger kept from her by life, her overprotective and cruel mother.
Now, four days later, close to the centre of Shepton Ponds, she stood at a large junction with a roundabout in the middle. It was a lush green with an attractive arrangement of large bushes in the middle; on any other day in the last couple of years she’d have seen it as a promising and snug place to sleep undisturbed, but not today; she had her accommodation sorted for tonight and all the possible nights to come; all she had to do was make a phone call.
She crossed the busy street and walked under a sign that announced the hospital to be only three miles away. A little further down the street she found a phone box. Standing inside it, she dug in her pocket for the last of her change. She had enough money for one phone call. She dug a phone number out of her pocket, put it near the dial pad and dialled. While it was ringing, she read the small amount of graffiti that was scrawled around the box. One piece caught her eye. LIFE SUCKS…BUT DARREN SUCKS BETTER CALL 01354 755439. She smiled to herself, but it wasn’t the number she had called. Someone answered.
“Hello, is Darren there?” she asked.
There was the sound of the phone being put down without a reply and Darren’s name being called. A few seconds elapsed then it was picked up again and a sleepy voice said “Hallo?”
“Darren, it’s been a long time. Listen, I need you to do something for me; it won’t take long, and if you do it, I’m yours all night. You can do what you want.”
“Wha…” suddenly waking up, “Hey is that…?
“Yes. Look, are you game? I’ve not got much time.”
“Shit! Shit, yeah I’m game. Name it. I didn’t think you’d be talking to me again. You in town?”
“Yes I am. Can you meet me in St. Mary’s Hospital in say…three hours? I’ve got to visit a friend.”
“See you there.”
She hung up the phone and rested with her back against the glass for a few moments; all the pieces were in place for revenge and redemption. Darren had taken her once against her will, and now he would take her against his own.
She got to the hospital a little early and waited across the road so she was watching when he swaggered up the driveway. She could have kept him waiting, but to do that would be to wait herself. She followed him, but not at a run.
A large bird glided low over the hospital complex. It flapped once as it approached the building and soared over it. That flap dislodged a dark downy feather from under its wing which fell in spirals, rose briefly, then fell again, carried along gently by the wind. She stopped and watched its descent sadly for a moment, but she didn’t watch the end of its journey; she had her own to finish.
She entered the hospital through the main entrance. As she walked through the doors, Darren was being pointed towards them by an unimpressed security guard, a cloud of exhaled smoke around his head, and the cigarette still in his hand. His face lit up when he saw her, and he came towards her.
She unsheathed the hunting knife that she kept tucked down the inside of her trousers, but kept it hidden from view. She quickened her pace as the world started to slow down. Adrenalin pumped into her system by the bucket load, and her head swam. She felt like the feather, free and taken by the wind, but she was in control of that wind for the first time in her life. Darren said her name, and she felt herself open an arm to him. His arms opened to receive her. She screamed once, loud and terrified, as she braced herself for what was to follow; she inserted the knife handle into his hand and the blade into her own belly. It was cold. Still thinking straight, she sliced sideways doing as much damage as she could. Her scream had stopped, unable to continue.
Darren’s face was awash with panic and confusion. He looked uncomprehendingly at her and at the knife that he held. She smiled at him and mouthed the words thank you. She couldn’t feel her legs any more, but she was on the floor so it didn’t matter. No sooner was she down than she was up again on a stretcher. The words of those around her reached her but only snippets of them made sense.
“….stop him!….”
“….too much blood…..never save her……..”
“….are we ready to store….”
She smiled at that; she had so much to look forward to for the first time in her life. Then she died.

*******

An anonymous body on the slab was not where it ended any more. The girl lay there dead. She had been murdered, that much was obvious. In the old days her murderer would be interrogated, a report would be filed as to why, a judgement would be passed on the accused, and the body would be laid to rest. It wasn’t so simple any more; a judgement had to be passed on the soul of the deceased too.
She lay in the hospital morgue, four doors away from the room that housed a computer that contained her mind state. Both were sleeping now. Both were still.
It had been 24 hours since her murder. She had been cleaned up and undergone a full autopsy since her ordeal, which was far more gruelling than anything Darren had undergone, but he was feeling the strain a little more. She was just waiting to be transported to a crematorium now, but was receiving more visitors than many of the living patients.
The door had barely been closed twenty minutes when the cold white light of the corridor severed the shadows of the morgue once again in the name of morbid fascination.
“I’ve not actually been in the morgue part of the hospital yet Doc. Is it as spooky as you’d imagine?” the younger doctor asked as they slipped inside.
“You get used to it,” was the older man’s reply as the door closed behind them, and the light left the room again.
“Yeah, well let’s switch the light on anyway! Where is it?”
The older doctor flicked the switch, and the buzz of the fluorescent light made a more comfortable alternative to the eerie quiet of the room. Light revealed the bank of large drawers covering the whole of one wall. The older doctor cast his eye over them and pulled out the one marked Jane Doe.
“So that’s her then?”
“Yes Jason, that’s her.”
“That’s where the flashing light on the computer in the other room used to reside.”
“Yes Jason, it is indeed. Now come along, I have to talk you through the paperwork on your last three patients yet, and it’s late.”
“Come on Doc, don’t come over all cool and collected with me, you’re as new to this storage shit as I am. Don’t tell me it doesn’t fascinate you.”
“I’m just being practical. It’s late,” he sighed.
“What happens to her now then Doc?”
“They cremate her.”
“And?… You know what I mean. She going to Heaven?”
“They call it The Hereafter Jason, not Heaven, so that it doesn’t get confused, and I don’t know; it’s not for me to say. She was murdered. Her life was cut short in its prime. It would be the decent thing to do. You really should learn not to get quite so interested in the death side of things Jason – you're training to preserve life.”
“Are you a religious man Doc?”
The older man resigned himself to the conversation. “I used to think that maybe there’s something, someone. I don’t know. I’ve seen some misery in my time, other peoples’ – illness and such, and it makes me wonder. Now? Now I have something to believe in, something I can definitely look forward to, immortality of some sort… There’s more peace of mind in that than anything else that’s on offer.”
The body lay forgotten as the doctors talked of elsewhere. In the computer room down the hall, two men in suits were downloading the file of the victim’s soul onto their own special storage facility. They didn’t refer to it as a soul; they called it a personality, just as they called Zacharia’s heaven The Hereafter, so that they didn’t get confused with yesterday’s fashions.
They would take it back to their rapidly growing headquarters along with the autopsy reports, clothes and possessions of the victim, eyewitness statements and case notes of the murder trial; they’d probably even talk to the accused; they had a judgement to pass themselves after all. The police and the courts had the living to worry about, and they were handful enough. These men looked after the dead.
They got what they needed and left, saying not much more than a few words to the staff. They represented the birth of a new authority on earth, a protective eye cast over the human race to wipe out corruption on the planet. They were the guardians of the gates of The Hereafter.
“Who are they Mummy?” a little girl asked as they swept through a crowd and out into the cold light of day.
Observing their white shirt collars with black throats, like that of a priest with the colours reversed, her mother knew the answer, and from that day on so did her daughter.
“They are the St. Peter Squad dear,” was her reply.


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