Afterlife, Inc.

Empty cinema

He usually remembered his dreams. Not this time, though. He felt as if he had slept for many, many days, and yet, he couldn’t remember a single thing his subconsciousness had produced over that time. Strange.

Oh, wait! There was this thing... People were chasing him around the village with pitchforks, they were angry, he was running away, but he couldn’t run, classic dream problems!, they caught him, everything went even more blurry... Nah, whatever, just another dream.

This ceiling looks strange, doesn’t it?, he realised. Where the fuck am I?

He pulled up his head and looked around. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MATRIX!?

Whichever way he looked, he couldn’t see the end to rows and rows of snow-white hospital beds filled with people of different ages, genders, skin colors and who knows what else. They all looked dead serious.

Oh, did I say “dead serious”? I meant just “dead”.

All of them were laying flat on their backs with no sign of breath or movement.

He started panicking. What is this place? How did I get here? Am I supposed to be dead?

He looked at the young guy to his right. He could clearly see bruises around the poor dude’s neck. Did he hang himself? Is it like a morgue or something?

He looked at the old lady to his left. At that age she’s more likely to be dead than alive anyway, morgue or no morgue...

Suddenly, he heard some voices from a distance. Yup, someone was coming. He could see them. Far, far, away.

Fuck, what do I do? Am I supposed to be dead or what? Are they friendly or not? What the hell is happening? Oh my god... “the hell”... Is this hell? Nah, don’t be stupid... Hell and heaven is just some bullshit made up to make money.

‘What’s her story, Jeffrey?’, he heard a male voice from the far.

‘Not bad, Sir’, he heard an answer. ‘She’s gonna do fine with the movie, I guess. Quite boring, frankly. Finished school, with mediocre results, found a menial job, found a white straight boring republican guy to marry, had three children, lived long enough, died from cancer, she’ll see that her husband and children miss her, but they eventually manage to move on. Boooooring, but she’ll like it.’

‘Phew... OK, let’s get over with it then.’

They were getting closer. I’m obviously supposed to be dead now..., he thought, No idea if they are friendly or not, and whatever the fuck is happening here, but I think I should at least play dead for now.

He laid back down, as straight and unnatural as possible, closed his eyes, and tried to calm down to hide his awfully visibly breathing lungs and awfully loudly pounding heart.

They went just past him. They didn’t notice anything. Phew!

Their steps went quiet, and it seemed like they were standing a couple of rows away from him, so he dared to open his eyes and slightly move his head up to see what they’re doing.

One of the men was tiny and bald, the other one – old and white-bearded. The Sméagol stood at the patient’s head and was clicking something on a computer attached to the bed. The Gandalf, meanwhile, stood right in from of the patient and tried to look serious and important.

‘Light on!’, said the Dobby before clicking something, and suddenly a powerful light started shining around the bed. It must look powerful from the inside! She will probably only see the Dumbledore emanating with cool light, and not much else around.

‘Awake in 3, 2, 1, ...’, said the bald one after some more clicking. Then the lady woke up. She raised her head and looked straight ahead, straight into the eyes of the bearded one.

‘Jehovah? Is that you?’, she asked.

‘Jehovah? Yeah, sure...’, he answered, visibly crestfallen, but then quickly realised how unprofessional it looked, so he cleared his throat and repeated: ‘I am Jehovah! Welcome to the Afterlife, my child!’

‘Is this heaven?’, she asked hesitantly. ‘Was I good enough for heaven?’

‘That’s something you’ll have to decide yourself, my child...’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Get up and come with me, I’ll show you.’

So she did and they went. Away. But only a couple of steps. And then they just disappeared. The small guy, the big guy, the dead lady, the blinding light – everything just faded away.

The undead dude got up. He just had to follow them! He had to see what is happening to people who wake up here. He had to know what’s gonna happen to him...

He run towards the place from which those people disappeared, but there was nothing there. Just white floor and rows of sterile beds all around. He went back and forth, left and right, until he lost himself in the boring maze of beds. Where the fuck are they?

I want to get out of here, he thought. And from that moment on, every step he took, everything around him was getting more and more dark. Ten steps later he was in a different place. Just like that.

It was a long corridor. Horizon-long. With doors on both sides.

And someone was coming. God damn it.

He hid behind the closest door.

It was just a broom closet.

Actually... that’s perfect! I’m naked, like all those dead people, and unlike those Gandalfy people, who wore those long white robes... If someone sees me here naked, they’ll probably drag me back to that bed and kill me back or something... If only I could find some janitor’s clothes here, I could pose as a cleaner and basically get into anywhere!

So he scoured the closet, and he found some robes (a bit too short for him, but will do), and a janitor cart.

Pushing his cart in from of him, he walked along the corridor. Whichever doors he tried to open, were locked. Most had no labels on them, except for a couple: “edit room”, “cinema”, “conservatorium”, “dormitories”, “staff room”... All locked. How the hell do I get there?

And how do you get anywhere, here, you moron?, he rebuked himself.

He just walked forward and thought loud and clear in his head: I want to go to the “edit room”. And again, with each step he took, the dark gray walls and doors of the corridor gradually disappeared. They got replaced with neon-blue-ish desks and chairs and computers...

He stopped at one desk that looked quite dirty. He grabbed some empty coffee cups, he wiped the table with a cloth... It’s smalltalk time, isn’t it?

‘How’s work?’

The girl in a suit working at the desk seemed relieved that she can get a short break.

‘Horrible, to be honest.’, she confessed. ‘I’m doing a serial killer today... They’re the worst. Compiling the scenes from their life is damn challenging, as you might imagine.’

‘Hard to watch, huh?’, he asked. ‘Emotionally...?’

‘Nah, come on.’, she laughed. ‘I saw so much gore in that job already, it doesn’t really bother me anymore. Although, I can’t help but feel guilty that we try so much to make them suffer... I prefer making a happy compilation of scenes with her parents and her puppy for a girl who died of cancer, not that...’, she said, visibly annoyed by her current appointment. ‘Anyways, what’s so fucking hard about serial killers, is that simply showing them their crimes only makes them feel proud, instead of guilty. We have to really put on extra effort to make them feel the right thing.’

‘Oh, ok... so how did you approach this one, huh?’

‘He has a code. To never ever hurt children. So he never did – not directly. But there’s plenty of orphans in the world because of him. Seeing how they got affected will break him, I’m sure.’

‘Smart!’, he complimented her insincerely. Well, his admiration for her skill was sincere, but his apparent gladness that the serial killer will suffer after all, was not. He was afraid of his own future. What are they gonna show me? Was I a good person?

He started re-examining his life before they can make him watch a movie that will make him re-examine his life.

‘I’m sorry’, he said to the girl at the desk. ‘I’ve got to go.’

We walked ahead. I want to go the the “cinema”. And he did.

The cinema hall was huge, obviously. But empty. Among the infinite seats, he could only see a single one that was taken. By a person who also seemed to be the lead character in the movie that was currently playing.

The guy in the seat was crying bittersweet tears. The movie was about him in prison, trying to prove his innocence. Only after his death they have finally found the evidence that it was someone else who did it. They’ve exonerated him posthumously, his wife finally realised she was wrong not believing him... It might have been a sad story, but at least now he knew that the truth was out there. He looked glad that he got at least a poor, post-mortem substitute of justice.

‘Hey, what are you doing here?’, he suddenly heard a whisper. He looked at where it came from. An old, bearded man (different from the previous old, bearded man) came into the cinema together with a tiny, bald man (different from the previous tiny, bald man).

‘I came here to clean up, Sir.’

‘Didn’t they tell you to wait until the patient leaves the cinema for conservation? Stick to the rules, man, or you won’t be working here for long...’

‘I’m so, so sorry, Sir...’, he said and started walking away.

Take me to the “conservatrium”, he thought to himself. And there he was. In a huge, empty, dark green room. What the hell do they conserve here?

Then he saw it. It was far away enough not to draw attention to his presence, yet close enough for him to see what’s happening over there. God bless my 20/20 eyesight...

There was a single chair over there. A girl was sitting on it, and she looked quite happy. Yet another Gandalf and Sméagol stood around her.

‘How do you feel?’, Gandalf asked.

‘Good.’, she answered with a smile. ‘Happy. I’ve led an exciting life, I kept true to my values, I had a loving wife who made all of my days brighter...’

‘I’m glad that’s what you feel. Because that’s what you’re going to feel for the rest of eternity. You’re welcome.’

The Sméagol clicked something on a tablet, and the woman’s eyes went blank. Gandalf waved a hand in front of her eyes, but she did not react. She didn’t talk. She just smiled, absently.

I need to get out of here! Take me to the “dormitory”!

The dormitory, like all the other rooms so far, looked infinite. Almost identical to the room with hospital beds in it, with its white sterility and its excess of nude people. Except instead of lying in beds, they were sitting on a fluffy white floor.

All eyes blank. None of them reacting to the janitor who just appeared among them. Some were smiling, like that girl from the conservatorium. Some looked scared. Some looked tense. Some looked high. Some looked happy. Some looked as if they have been crying for eternity already.

Which one am I gonna be? Fuck, that looks scary! I need to get out of here. Take me to the “staff room”!

And there he was. Among thousands and thousands of Dumbledores and their Dobbys. Among thousands of janitors and movie editors. They sat on comfy chairs and sofas, enjoying their brakes.

He sat down on one of them. He tried to relax.

It’s not gonna be bad, is it? You weren’t supposed to wake up early. They don’t know you’re awake. At least you know what they do here. Maybe you can avoid it? Maybe you can run away?

‘Sir! Sir! We’re done with this one. What a challenge it was! But Jake Onion’s movie is finally finished!’, shouted a movie editor as soon as he entered the room.

‘Thanks, Jeremy!’, answered one of the white-haired old men. ‘Let me just finish my coffee, and we’re onto that.’

FUCK!, the undead fake-janitor thought. I AM JAKE ONION! And I was A CHALLENGE! God damn it, I’m screwed! They’re gonna go to the hospital beds’ room and realise I’m not there. What then?

He panicked. Instead of trying to run away, he went... to the hospital beds’ room.

There! There’s my bed! Quick, I have to get rid of those clothes. He took them off and tossed under some random bed. Then he laid down on his own bed.

What do I do now? I don’t wanna feel. I don’t wanna see my life. I don’t wanna see anything. I don’t wanna hear anything. Fuck, I’ve left the janitor cart behind. It would have something I could stuff in my ears with.

He looked around. Nothing. Nothing but bodies. Screw it, I’m too desperate to have morals!

And he just bit off the ear of that young hangman next to him. Dude didn’t even bleed. No wonder, he’s dead after all, isn’t he?

Jake stuffed pieces of the hangman’s ear into his own earlobes. He clapped to check if it worked. Fine enough. Now the sight...

He remembered the blinding bright light emanating from the Dumbledore. He checked out the computer next to the pillow on his bed. The interface was a bit complicated and he had no idea what language was it on, but eventually he did find an icon of a light bulb.

He clicked on it, and indeed, a bright light appeared out of nowhere. There was a slider there as well. He moved it a bit up. Yup, the light got even brighter. Max power then!

A few seconds later, his eyes physically hurt. He blindly turned the light off. Yup, “blindly” is a good word. How he could not see a thing, just blackness.

He laid down and tried to calm down. It’s gonna be OK now, he lied to himself. They can’t show you anything anymore. Just relax!

He had no idea what was happening. At one point, he saw the blackness becoming a little bit less dark. Does it mean the wizards woke me up now? I mean, I was awake the whole time, but I guess now they THINK they woke me up...

So he got up.

‘Am I dead? Is this heaven?’, he asked. He didn’t hear himself say it, he didn’t hear the answer. But he waited what he thought was appropriate time and he got up and started walking. Until he hit something with his big toe.

He bent down and tried to touch it. Yup, it’s a cinema chair. I made it here!

Jake sat down. The more he tried, the harder it was to relax.

Just think positive. Think about the happy things in your life. Think about the studies in Rome. About those crazy parties. Think about the money you had. The villas you lived in. Think about the holidays in Ibiza. Just laying on the beach. Relaxing. Enjoying the sun. Drinking sangria. And in the evening having fun with the boys...

God damn it, Jake, you idiot! That’s the last thing you were supposed to think about! Don’t think about the boys. No, girls are also off limits!

Fuck, I can’t not think about them. But I’m sure they’re fine. I just showed them love, that’s it. They came to me themselves, didn’t they? They wanted it. They were already old enough to know what they want. Eight is enough already, isn’t it? Damn, one girl was five... I’m sure she’s fine though...

Wherever he tried to point his thoughts to, the children were already there. His work – just an excuse to meet them. His vacations – he always brought some kid with him. His studies – he partied way more than his celibacy allowed him to.

He knew the kids weren’t all right. He met one of them years later. At 40, he never even had a girlfriend. Was it because of Jake? What else could it be? He had heard about one girl who went bankrupt paying for her therapy. He had heard about that boy who took his own life when he was 14... The boy left no note, nobody knew why he did it. Jake knew. He told himself that it couldn’t possibly be this, but deep inside he knew it was him. It was all him.

All his life he tried not to think about it. But apparently, you can’t hold it in forever. Try as he might, his guts were filled with guilt. Whatever they were currently showing him on the big screen, he saw even worse things in his head.

He saw the scared, innocent faces of the children he raped. He saw the angry, murderous faces of his parishioners. He saw the pitchforks they were holding. He saw his death again.

I’m screwed. I’m fucking screwed forever.

A photo of me

About the author

Hi! I'm Andrea (they/them). I tell computers what to do, both for a living and for fun, I'm also into blogging, writing and photography. I'm trying to make the world just a little bit better: more inclusive, more rational and more just.