Running Late – A short story

Running Late

Jared ran as fast as his skinny legs could carry him. Every stride burned, even the first one. He made a mental note to go to the gym more. He added it to the small dusty pile of such notes tucked away in the corner of his mind.  He’d start his new fitness regime tomorrow, but today he was late for work. Again.

He rounded the final corner just in time to see the bus pulling up. Past experience had taught him that the bus driver wasn’t the sort to wait, even if he saw you running for the bus like a man possessed. The guy lived and died by his timetable. There were no exceptions, no mercy. The number 10 bus was a wheeled community and the driver was its ruthless dictator.

Jared dug deep and surged forwards. As he reached the bus it started to pull away. He shouted, “Not today!” and dived forwards, hoping to grab the door handle. Unfortunately, Jared didn’t catch the bus. The bus caught him. The last thing he saw was the oversized tire. The last sound he heard was squelch.

Jared awoke in a run down office, the walls chipped and discoloured. There were cheesy motivational posters everywhere, with slogans that made him want to punch the author. In the centre of the room was a desk that looked decidedly second hand. It was covered in dusty files and a computer that was only a few years short of being a genuine antique.

Jared did a quick inventory of his various limbs. All appeared to be in order, apart from a mild headache. It was a miracle that he was still in one piece. He’d be having serious words with that bloody bus driver, if he could ever get up early enough to catch him. As he stood up to leave the whole room span and he fell to the floor with a crash.

Right on cue a plump middle aged woman carrying a weathered briefcase appeared from the nearest doorway. She looked down and smiled, “Try not to move around too quickly dear, you’re still disoriented.”

Jared stayed on the ground but lifted his head, “Where am I? Is this the hospital?”

“You’re in the afterlife,” she said, matter of factly.

Jared shook his aching head, “Sorry, could you repeat that, I thought you said the afterlife.”

His forced laughter was halted by the woman nodding solemnly. His headache increased exponentially, “Are you telling me I’m in heaven?”

It was her turn to laugh, a deep bellowing guffaw, “Does this look like heaven to you? You think heaven is dealing with a few budgetary issues and couldn’t afford those pearly gates anymore, is that it?”

“If this isn’t heaven where am I?” As soon as he asked the question he regretted it. What if he’d gone south?

“Relax, you’re in limbo Mr. Jones. I supposed I should introduce myself, I’m Maggie, your Afterlife Insurance claims assessor.”

“My afterlife what? Is this some kind of joke? Am I in a coma?”

Maggie opened her briefcase and pulled out a wad of paper three inches thick. She dropped it on the desk with a thump and said, “my job is to make sure you fully understand the terms and options of your afterlife insurance policy. Please take a seat and we’ll begin.”

Sheer curiosity dragged Jared off the floor and up into the chair. He said, “I’m sorry but I still don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know what afterlife insurance is or why I would have it.”

Maggie sighed, “You’d be surprised how many people are unfamiliar with their insurance coverage. Presumably you understand the concept of standard life insurance? Well afterlife insurance works on a similar principle. You can’t claim until you die, so congratulations on completing step one. The next step is to determine what sort of afterlife you would like. You have lots to choose from.”

Jared blinked a couple of times to try and clear his head, “Ok, let’s pretend for a moment that what you’re saying isn’t completely insane. I didn’t buy anything like that!”

Maggie flipped to the front of the document, “Says here your Great Aunt Mildred took out this particularly policy.”

“Great Aunt Mildred? The one with all the cats?”

“That’s the one. She was probably a witch, they are always sticklers for having adequate insurance. Nobody wants to get stuck paying the bills for a potion gone wrong. She must have really loved you because she took out the platinum coverage. You’re going to be spoiled for choice!”

Jared placed his head on the desk. He closed his eyes and spoke slowly, “I’m sorry but I still have no idea what you are talking about. Can we start from the beginning?”

Maggie ran her finger down the page, “You certainly can, thanks to your reincarnation rider. You can go back as whatever you’d like, provided you have the points of course.”

Jared couldn’t help himself, “Points?”

“Yes, your karma points. Your final total determines what category of animal you get to choose from.”

“So I can’t just pick whatever I like?”

Maggie rolled her eyes, “Don’t be silly, if everyone got to go back as whatever they wanted the world would be filled with unicorns and eagles!”

Jared thought carefully, “Ok, so how many points would I need to come back as a dolphin?”

“Why does everyone always start with dolphin? For that you’d need fifty thousand points.”

“Ok, so how many do I have?”

Maggie flipped through several pages, then pulled out a calculator. There was a lot of furious tapping before she declared, “Seven.”

“Seven thousand?”

“No, just seven.”

“But I was such a nice person!”

“Only when sober I’m afraid. You lost tens of thousands of points every time you went out clubbing. Then of course there was that unfortunate incident with the garden gnome…”

Jared blushed, “Ok, please stop. So what can I be for seven points?”

Maggie scanned the charts, “looks like dung beetle or mayfly.”

“I’m not loving those options!”

Maggie flipped through some more pages, “Worry not, you have all kinds of alternatives if reincarnation isn’t your cup of tea. Let me ask you a question, how do you feel about sunbathing?”

Jared shrugged, “Yeah I don’t mind it if I there’s a cold beer involved. Why?”

Maggie pulled out a red pen and scratched off an option, “Just ruling out vampire. Now are you a dog person?”

“Not at all, I hate dogs. I got a nasty bite once as a kid.”

More crossing off, “Ok, so no to werewolf. How are you with confined spaces?”

“How confined?”

Maggie drew a small box in the air, “Sarcophagus sized? Mummy’s are very popular this year.”

“I’m not staggering around wrapped in toilet roll with my arms sticking out!”

“Fair enough. I don’t suppose you’re going to want to talk about zombies either then. That’s probably for the best, we have a lot of zombies at the moment. That option has really taken off with the youngsters.”

Jared stood up abruptly and thumped his fist on the desk, “You don’t understand, I don’t want to be dead! I’m not ready for the afterlife, I just want my boring old regular life back.”

“You should of thought of that before you threw yourself under a bus…”

“I didn’t…I wasn’t…never mind. None of these options are any good. Can I just skip this step and go straight to heaven?”

Maggie let out a deep sigh, “Bad news I’m afraid, this is it. That whole heaven thing was just a ploy to make people behave themselves and not be total jerks all the time. You can either pick an option from this policy, or be dead forever. Entirely your call. I get my commission either way.”

Jared exhaled loudly, “I’m sorry but none of the options you presented are even vaguely appealing. Are those my only choices?”

Maggie glanced around the room and lowered her voice, “Well there is one other option available to you, but strictly speaking I’m not supposed to offer it to anyone that may abuse it. You’re not the vengeful sort are you?”

“Of course not, I’m a pacifist.”

Maggie leaned in closer, “Ok, well in that case here’s your final option…”

Jared listened carefully and as soon as she was finished he nodded enthusiastically, “Yes please, that one. I’ll choose that one.”

“You’re sure?”

“One hundred and ten percent.”   

Maggie pulled a pen out of the briefcase and made him sign in several dozen places. Then she slammed the briefcase shut and said, “Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Jones. Happy haunting.”

And that is how the number 10 bus from Eastern Green gained an extra passenger, its very own poltergeist.

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