Authors: Gillian Zane
CHEAT. Copyright © 2016 by Gillian Zane. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Editing by Raw Books Editing Services
Cover Design by
::: created in the USA :::
or my therapist
. I told you so.
Two wrongs don't make a right, but three rights make a left.
of a pool person before I died. Hanging out on a plastic pseudo-bed dressed in a scrap of material wasn’t my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to be a pool person. I wanted to be that confident chick who could rock a thong and sip frozen alcoholic concoctions with no discomfort or self-doubt as she paraded around a chemically induced, crystal blue watering hole. I just wasn’t that type of girl. Plus, they had this thing called the Sun and it had a tendency to turn my skin from pasty white to bright red, no matter how much sunscreen I slathered on it. And well, hot and outdoors were overrated.
Now, those types of things didn’t matter. Because of the dead part. It had its perks, the dead part, I mean. Sometimes.
There was no need for sunscreen anymore. No need for fans, or air conditioning, I didn’t notice temperatures as much. And it was hard to be self-conscience when you were pushing up daisies. Who cares if you’ve got a little too much junk in your trunk? You’re dead. What does it matter?
“Boss wants to see you, Cassie.” Jerome, one of my co-workers, strode in from the back of the apartment complex. He said this as he was pulling his shirt off with a quick move and then threw it on an available lounge chair. He executed a perfect dive into the waters of the pool and when he came up and saw me still sitting there he nodded his head and pointed to the front office as if to say, “get moving." I slammed my book closed and put it to the side, getting up from my comfy spot with only a few exaggerated sighs.
Everyone was staring at me, probably wondering if I had done something wrong. I was the new girl; they didn’t know me that well yet. The pool was the main point of congregation for our team, so the whole group was here. Everything that happened, happened around its sparkly blue waters. It was like the undead water cooler.
When the boss called, you went. Or so I was told. And from the looks on everyone’s faces I wasn’t hopping to it quick enough. I was the latest addition to this strange crew and I was only now getting the hang of things. I didn’t like being a rookie and I didn’t like not knowing things.
When I joined the team they told me I had been dead for about a year and a couple of months. Dead and buried, or so I assumed, who knows, they might have cremated me. Sprinkled my ashes on some far away mountain top. Or dumped me in a deep lake. My overactive brain had cooked up all kinds of different ways I might have gone out. But, the weird thing was, I couldn't remember what actually happened. All I could recall was the last two months. That left a whole year of being dead that I couldn’t remember. Everything before these last two months was a blur; even my life was a blur. Everyone reassured me this was normal, but it didn’t feel normal. Nothing about being dead felt normal. Truth be told, it was strange as shit. A missing year. What the hell had I been doing during that time? No one told me. I got the impression that no one really knew, even the boss man. I wracked my brain trying to remember something, anything, but it was useless. It was like that year didn’t exist. One day I was alive, and then the next thing I knew I was sitting in an office being interviewed for my job in the Afterlife Corporation. They called it processing.
, I’m dead.”
“Like dead, dead?”
“There is no more dead, than dead.”
“Then why am I talking and standing and shit?”
“Welcome to Afterlife.”
“Why do you say it like that?”
“Welcome to afterlife. Shouldn’t it be the afterlife, as in a place? Like the Great Beyond, or some other crap like that.”
“Well, it is a place, but a proper noun. You wouldn’t say welcome to The Heaven would you? It’s Afterlife. Not the Afterlife. Are you always this way?”
“Never mind.” The man shook his head and shuffled through a few papers on his messy desk.
I looked around the room and tried not to fidget. I didn’t know how I had gotten here. I didn’t know what had gotten me here either. One minute I was– well, I wasn’t too positive what I was doing before this. I knew I was doing something, though. Then, well, I was here.
I might have been at work.
Yeah, the last thing I remember was working. Or wait, maybe a party. Yes, I remember a party. Then I’m here, sitting here in this uncomfortable chair.
If it wasn’t for this overwhelming knowledge that I was dead, I would probably think I was alive and kidnapped or something. But the dead part was hard to deny. It was a truth that I knew in every pore of my being. I’m dead. This is what dead feels like. It was a certainty.
Being dead sucked.
And if I was dead and this was the afterlife, or
, whatever you wanted to call it, I probably needed to make a good impression. The most important interview of my life, right? This guy was probably like Saint Peter, or something. Was it Saint Peter that handled the pearly gates thing? Heaven’s bouncer? I tried to remember my catechism classes. It was useless; my brain was muddy and slow.
I did remember them teaching us that when you died you were asked a bunch of questions about your life to see if you could go into Heaven. Like an interview. And this certainly felt like an interview. Even though this was not what I would have pictured to be the pearly gates. Far from it, actually.
The room I was in was sterile. It had a low rent business office feel to it. It was giving me the jitters in an uncomfortable way, like I was about to get scammed out of my retirement plan, or sold a time share. If I was being honest with myself, I was scared out of my mind. Which I tried to do often, be honest with myself that is, I could lie to everyone else, just not to myself. And this office that was drab as drab came, made me feel all kinds of uncomfortable and jittery. Was this a test? How I react to my surroundings? I tried to play it cool.
The walls were stark and bare, painted white with beige industrial carpet under my feet. Gray filing cabinets lined the back wall and a beat up desk sat in the middle of the room taking up a lot of space. The man, who hadn’t introduced himself, and I was having a really hard time thinking of him as Saint Peter, sat behind the desk and stared at me through tiny eyes. He was as drab as the room. Middle-aged, washed out brown hair, normal features and normal business casual attire.
“Is the Afterlife all like this?” I couldn’t take the silence anymore. I couldn’t take his stare.
“Like what?” He looked at me quizzically. I would have thought he was used to questions if this was his job. Welcoming dead people seemed like it would be nothing more than answering question after question.
“So, so, I don’t know, businessy.” I waved at the room indicating the drab look.
“Oh, no. This is processing.”
“So, this is a part of afterlife, you process people that are…”
“Newly deceased,” he finished for me.
“So, where am I being processed to? And are you Saint Peter?”
“Uh no, oh
no, he’s like the top exec around here, he doesn’t process, that would be crazy, err, that would be stressful. Why would you think I’m Saint Peter?” He laughed like I was the dumbest thing to enter this room.
“Hate to point out the obvious, but I’m kind of new at this.” I tried to not sound sarcastic but everything I said usually came out with some kind of sarcastic tone. It was a personality failing of mine, or perk, depending on which end of it you were looking at.
“Quite right, yes, right, you are new at this. Well, I guess we should get on with the processing, right?” He moved around a few stacks of papers and picked up a pen. “So the processing thing, as you call it. Basically, the question is where are
going to be processed. It’s a choice. A choice that’s up to you.”
“Is Heaven available?” I laughed, but deep down I didn’t believe that was possible, at all.
“Nope,” he said with a chuckle.
“Oh.” I had expected that answer, but it hurt to hear it. It was like a big stop sign thrown in my face.
You suck, no Heaven for you.
“I can’t confirm or deny that Heaven even exists.” He smiled to soften the blow of ruining all of my hopes and dreams in one tiny pop-culture reference.
“I thought I would get all the answers once I died.” I tried not to look too let down. The man looked like he was about to have a coronary from all my questions.
“It’s a common misconception about Afterlife.”
“Well, that blows.”
“It is what it is.” He should be wearing a shirt that read ‘shit happens’ instead of the stupid short sleeve button up he wore.
“So, where do I go then, Hell?” I shuddered thinking about that option. As a living person, which seemed so long ago, but really might only be moments in the past, I hadn’t been one to think much about death and the afterlife or things like that. I was only twenty-one, at least that’s what I believe I was. Things were a bit fuzzy, but twenty-one felt right. Twenty-one was young. I was young, I shouldn’t be dead. I should be at a party. Yes, a party. Again, that felt right. The fuzzy didn’t feel quite so fuzzy anymore.
As a living breathing human, I had believed thoughts about Heaven and Hell were for the old and infirm, those who made wills and had retirement plans. The types of people who contemplated death and the goings on after one kicked the metaphorical bucket. People like me didn’t think about death, they thought about living. Death wasn’t on Cassandra Mercier’s mind, a girl who had her whole life ahead of her.
What a thing to get wrong. I was probably going straight to Hell.
This seemed more of a certainty than any kind of reward, or perfect afterlife. When I was alive, I was what my priest would call a C&E Catholic. I went to church for only the major holidays, Christmas and Easter. And I certainly never prayed, unless I was feeling really depressed. I had been raised Catholic, but had decided along the way that being religious wasn’t my cup of tea. When I was alive, stuff like that didn’t seem important. Now it seemed like the most important thing in the world.
“Oh, no. You wouldn’t be here if you were going
.” He pointed down. “At least I don’t think. I don’t know much about the lower floors. I do know they exist though, I can confirm that. And upper floors too. They have those, but I don’t think that’s Heaven. My opinion, don’t quote me on it. I’ll deny it if you do. As a member of Afterlife, you only know about the floor you’re currently assigned to and the floors you’ve come from. I know I’ve worked with people that have come from upper floors. Demoted is what they call it. They don’t talk about it and I can’t tell you much about it because I don’t really know. Lower floors though, I’ve come up from the lower floors. Those aren’t as fun. The higher the floor, the better the job. Lower floors can be awful.” He shivered and I tried not to get up and make a run for it. Could I opt out, invoke my Fifth Amendment rights? Did I have any rights?
you tell me?” I said with emphasis so he could maybe get to the point. I decided it was best to figure out all my options before making any hasty decisions. Maybe if I knew more about my situation I could figure out a loophole. I was a pretty good problem solver.
“You have a choice.”
“Okay.” I didn’t want to act like I was prodding him for more information, but this guy seemed to be stalling or trying to be mysterious on purpose. I thought it was a good idea to be on my best behavior and not throttle the guy, but he was seriously screwing with my head.
“You can get a position in Afterlife, or you can go into Limbo. It’s the choice we all get at the end, at least if you come through processing. Think of it as a work release program, working for Afterlife, that is. You either work it off or serve your time in Limbo.”
“Position? Limbo?” When in doubt, repeat what the drab dude says.
“Yes. You can accept a position in Afterlife and you have the opportunity to move up, make your work program easier, the higher you go the better the positions you get. Those upper floors we discussed. Or you can go into Limbo and serve your time in stasis.”
“Wait, I don’t understand. Serve my time?”
“Ok, lemme start over. Pardon me, I’m new at this. You’re one of my first,” he laughed nervously.
“Yeah, well, technically you’re my first.”
“Oh, I don’t know how I feel about that,” I said chewing on my fingernail nervously. I was about to be processed into eternal damnation by a guy in training. I was screwed. I bit down too hard on my nail, splitting it and ripping my cuticle. The dull thrum of pain had me wincing and staring down at my thrashed nails. I hadn’t chewed on my fingernails in a while, or at least I thought I hadn't. Old habits were hard to break, even ones you couldn’t remember.
“Don’t worry. I’ve had a lot of training.” He steepled his hands and nodded to reassure me. “So, where were we?”
“Time served,” I prodded morosely.
“Yes. You would have to serve your time, in Limbo. It’s like a holding pen. You’ve accrued a lot of negative energy in your lifetime and that has to be worked off-” I waved my hand to cut him off.
“Wait, negative energy? What is that?”
“Metaphors, use metaphors,” he said more to himself than to me. “Negative energy is the bad stuff you’ve done in your life. Like crimes. If you were being sentenced in a court, they would look at your crimes and the judge would tell you how much time you would have to spend in jail once you were found guilty. Your negative energy is the negative things you did while alive, you have to work it off. Pay for your crimes, so to speak. You pay for them by serving time in Limbo, think of it as jail. Or you work it off by taking a position in Afterlife, think of that as a work release program. The Powers That Be have a formula to figure out how much time you have to serve in Limbo. Your Afterlife position is based off merit and accomplishment. The better you do, the quicker you get promoted, so you can drastically reduce the time you have to serve.”
“What’s the formula? And who are The Powers That Be? Is that like God?” I asked.
“Uh, wait, let me see, about that formula.” He shuffled through some papers on his desk. “The Powers That Be, that’s just a phrase we use around here. Again I can’t confirm or deny anything, but there is a place outside of Afterlife, in charge of Afterlife. This is what a lot of people assume is Heaven, but no one knows. The orders and rules all come from there. The Powers That Be make the rules. We have to follow those rules, so maybe someday we can transition out of Afterlife and go to the next place. We don’t know who it is, or what it is, or if there are many or just one. Or at least, I don’t know, some might. The Powers That Be could be God, or Allah or Buddha, or all those Hindu deities that I really don’t know the names of. Here it is!” He held up a paper from his desk. “The formula. Hmmm,” he frowned at the paper. “It is, negative energy accrued, times years of life, subtract positive energy and multiply that by the number of days remaining in the current cycle…”
“Wait, what does that mean? Current cycle? And how do they know how much negative energy I’ve accrued?” I threw up my hands, confused by everything this man was saying.
“Oh, the current cycle will end when this particular crop of humans expires.”
“Wait, this crop? What does that mean?” I whined. I should probably just give up. I wasn’t going to understand this, and it seemed liked it was the goal of this man to confuse me even more. I dropped my head into my hands.
“They don’t explain that kind of thing to processing.” He chuckled that smug chuckle again. “And the current cycle end date, that is a closely guarded secret, above my paid grade.” He tapped his forehead with a smile, but looked wistfully at his papers.
“This is so bizarre. I thought I would get answers and now all I’m stuck with is more questions. You can't even tell me if God exists.” I shook my hand and looked down at my ragged fingernails again. I must have been chewing on them a lot, they were a mess. How did I even have fingernails? Wasn’t I supposed to be translucent with chains or something? Or really, wasn’t I supposed to be my perfect self, didn’t they say that in all those Heaven is real documentaries? As I stared down at my fingernails and thought about my perfect self, my fingernails thickened and straightened out. A perfect manicure.
My head was about to explode.
I decided to focus on something that I could quantify. This Limbo thing. I had to get my head on straight. “So, what would my sentence be in Limbo?” I slid my hands out of sight and looked up at the man. I didn’t want to stare at my perfect manicure and contemplate that madness.
“Five million, three hundred eighty-six thousand, two hundred seventy days, oh and six hours.”
“That’s like thirteen thousand years?” I gaped at him.
“You did that math in your head?”
“I’m good with numbers,” I said quickly. How much negative energy did I rack up? Was I really that bad of a person that I had to serve thirteen thousand years in Limbo to pay it back? “How do they even know?”
“Well, you weren’t that good of a person, all that negative energy,” he chuckled. “They have a way of monitoring these types of things. Don’t ask me, though…”
“Yeah, above your pay grade,” I scoffed.