There’s a thunderous knock at the door. You open it to find an improbably tall, black-robed figure towering over you with a scythe in one bony hand. The figure peers at you for a long moment, then looks down at a clipboard in its other hand. Then back at you. Then back at the paper. It has no apparent face, but you sense that it is puzzled.
“Can I help you?” Not sure what reply you will receive but curious as to why this figure is standing at your door.
“Uhm,” The figure hesitates. Clearly unsure as to which information it can reveal and which it really can’t. Suddenly he looks up, decided. “We are doing a small survey about our customer service and would like to ask you a few questions.”
“Right.” You lean against the doorpost and wait.
The figure in front of you puts the scythe against the wall and reaches in a hidden but apparently rather deep pocket. After a few minutes of groping around he finally pulls out a pen. The pen looks so ancient, you scarcely believe it will actually write.
“First question, have you used our services before?” The figure looks up. It is very hard to see if he is actually looking at you or not because there are no eyes. Nor a nose or a mouth, come to think of it. How is he talking to you? And what did he just ask?
“Excuse me, what?” You lean a little closer, trying to make out anything underneath the hood of the long black robe.
“Have you used our services before?” The figure patiently waits for a reply, pen at the ready.
Nothing discernible under the hood, you try to focus on the topic at hand. “What services are you referring to?”
“Oh, my apologies, I thought that was quite clear.” The figure clears his throat. “Our company specializes in beyond the scope travel. Mostly to the dark and rather hot places where only the fervent traveller wants to go.” He pauzes.
Now it is your turn to be puzzled. “Uhm, I don’t think I've used your services at all. I have never even left the state.”
“Oh,” The figure glances back at the clipboard, flipping the top page to glance at the next one. “Well, I see here that you have used our services exactly eleven months, four days, twenty one hours and thirty four minutes ago.”
“What?” You don’t believe what you are hearing. “What are you talking about? I have literally never left the state. I don’t even think I have left town in the last two years.”
The figure flips to the third page on his clipboard and then back again to the first. “Hmm, no, I believe you are wrong. All the information is right here.”
“Look, I swear I have never left this town. Your information must be wrong.”
The figure scoffs and you sense an air of obvious disbelieve. “I am sorry, sir, but our information is never wrong.”
You squint at the figure in front of you, wishing he had eyes so you could bore into them with your angry gaze. “Fine, I will prove it to you.” You turn around and walk through the hallway and into your living room. There you open the first drawer of the dresser standing in the far left corner of the room. Pushing some stuff around you finally find your diary from last year, pick it up and walk back to the door. The figure is still waiting patiently outside on the porch.
You start flipping through the dairy. “What day did I supposedly use your services?”
“That would be November twenty first.”
“Last year, right?” You ask as you keep turning the pages, trying to find the correct date.
“Right.” The figure starts looking around while he waits for you to find your evidence.
And finally you have it. “Ha!” You exclaim. “See, I told you.” You push the diary into the figure’s hidden face.
He reads the notes made on that date and compares them to the notes on his clipboard. “I am sorry, sir, but you only confirmed that my information is correct.”
“What? It clearly says, Doctor’s appointment, Main Street, at two in the afternoon. I was there for a full hour because, as usual, the doctor was running late.” Remembering the waste of time in the waiting room of the doctor, the annoyance you felt then starts to resurface.
“Yes, that is exactly what it says here.” The figure shows his clipboard to you so you can clearly see that he has the same information. Right underneath the doctor’s appointment you can see another appointment at three fifteen that just says ‘departure’. You frown.
“I was on my way home at three fifteen.” You glance at your own diary where no other appointments were taken down for that day.
The figure sighs. “Alright, sir, I think I know what the problem is.” He hesitates. “What do you remember from your drive home?”
“Nothing. It was just like any other day.” You shrug, unclear to where this is going.
“Think, sir. Think really hard.” The figure clasps the clipboard to his chest and waits.
“Look, there is absolutely nothing. Nothing happened.” You start to get exasperated, already regretting opening the door.
“Fine.” The figure takes a deep breath and continues. “Do you remember a blue pickup truck in front of you?”
“Do you remember what was in the back of said pickup truck?” The figure is now talking to you as if you are a child.
Annoyed, you reply, “Yeah, a big ass box.”
“And what happened to that big ass box?” He tries to coax you to remember. You start to feel a tingle. Something is finding its way in your memories.
“It uhm,” You frown again. “It, it uhm, fell off?” You are not intirely sure but it seems right.
“Yes, it did.” The figure seems rather pleased with this answer. “And what happened next?”
Thinking back hard, your eyes shift restlessly until it becomes clear to you. “I swerved.”
“And I hit a tree.” Still a little unsure about what this means you look up at the figure.
If it had a face, it would be smiling. “There you are. And that’s when you departed.”
You stumble back into your hallway. Suddenly you can see that the walls and furniture are worn and burnt. You never noticed that before. When you look beyond the figure standing in the open door, you can see the burning bushes on the other side of the road. No wait, that isn’t a road. It is a river, bloodred, filled with screaming souls. And then you look at the figure. Finally you can see his face, and you immediately wish you couldn’t. Burnt flesh is hanging from the bones. He might have been a good looking man once, great bone structure, but there is nothing left of it now.
“How is this possible?” You stare at the figure, not really wanting to look at him but not being able to avert your eyes.
“Well, sir,” the figure begins, “due to an error in our administration you didn’t go through the usual reception flow where we explain what happened and what is in store for you while you stay with us indefinitely. This is why you did not know what was going on and made yourself believe that you were still topside.” A lopsided smile. “The human mind is a wonderful thing.” Sensing that this little quirky comment is not going to receive the response he was hoping for, he immediately continues. “Of course we would like to rectify this situation so we are sending you back.”
Cautiously you ask, “Back where?”
“Topside of course. You can start a new life right this minute, if you want.”
“Why wouldn’t I want that?” Still hesitant.
“Well, there is a small limitation in our system which will cause you to die at the same age as your previous life, which is, let me check.” Flips through the clipboard pages. “Twenty seven. Well, that’s not too bad. And we will make sure you have a great life. You will be a rock star, have thousands of fans, will make great music that lasts through the ages before you die of an overdose and wind up right back here but this time you will go through the proper channels.” The figure looks at you expectantly. “What do you say?”
You take a moment to think about this. On the one hand, you are apparently living in hell at this moment and they have just realised that they made a mistake, which might mean that staying here could just be the start of an eternity of torture. You glance at the river of souls flowing in front of your porch. On the other hand, they want to send you back to live the life of a rock star. Knowing what you know now you can surely avoid the overdose.
You smile and stick out your hand. “Deal. Send me back.”
“Perfect!” The figure exclaims and reaches out to shake your hand. Right before he touches you, he says, “And remember, you won’t remember a thing.”
Your smile fades as his hand touches yours and you fall into oblivion, his laughter echoing in your ears.