“How can I be dead?! I was fine a minute ago!”
“Uh-huh… Yeah, can you fill out this paperwork?”
Jack handed the stiff a folder; he wasn’t really paying attention. How could he? She was here.
The stiff was waving his hand in front of Jack’s face.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with all this stuff,” the stiff said. “It’s literally in Chinese!”
“Huh, what,” Jack brought his focus back to his job. “Oh, right, that’s my next assignment.”
He grabbed the folder from the stiff. Technically they weren’t supposed to called the deceased people they work with “stiffs” but he didn’t see the big deal. They were dead. It’s not like they had that much time to fill out a complaint, and even if they did have time, they definitely wouldn’t have time to actually wait for the complaint to actual be addressed.
The stiff had her hands on her hips and looked like she was ready to kill someone, specifically him.
“Okay, okay, sorry, sorry,” Jack said, putting his hands out in front of himself. “Here’s the right paperwork. Jill Hill, right?”
He would’ve teased her about the name, but she looked liked she’d snap any second.
Jack braved one quick look over his shoulder and watched the brown-haired woman walk around a corner.
Jill rolled her eyes.
“Stop being such a wuss and just go talk to her.”
“Huh, what?” Jack was scratching the back of his head. His mom called it a tick; something he did when he was uncomfortable.
“I can’t, really,” he defended.
“Whatever, can we just move on with this dumb process?”
Jack coud tell Jill was one of those kinds of people that took charge and expected everyone to as well.
“Uh… yeah, right, right.”
He pulled out a pen and started filling out some of Jill’s information.
“Okay,” he began. “Are you a dog person or a cat person?”
“Wait,” she said, making a grab for the folder. “That’s seriously on the paperwork? That’s rediculous.”
Sure enough, it was Question #5, right under ‘Do you like Nickelback?’
“What does that question have to do with me being dead,” she demanded. “Also, you never asked me if I like Nickelback.”
“Oh, well, clearly you’re that kind of person that does, so I marked it down for you.”
Her mouth went into an impossibly straight line of anger.
“Ok, obviously I was wrong…”
He changed the answer from yes to no and continued asking her questions ranging from ‘Tea or hot chocolate?’ to ‘If forced into cannibalism which part of your friend’s body would you consider the dessert: eyes or tongue?’.
“Alright, box of earwigs…” he sighed as he filled in her final answer.
“So…why exactly are you asking me all these questions?”
“No idea; it’s just part of the form. That’s way above my paygrade. My job is to just fill out this form and get you across the Bridge. The rest is someone else’s thing.”
Jill brushed her bangs out of her eyes.
“Where to next?”
“The Post Office.”
Jack stuffed the folder into his jacket and started walking away from Jill.
“What’s at the Post Office,” she questioned. “Is that where we have to get a dead passport or something?”
“Nah, that’s where the Bridge is located in your city,” he answered. “The Bridge, as you can probably guess, is what you need to cross in order to go to the Next Place.”
“What’s the Next Place?”
“No idea, grims can’t cross The Bridge until death either.”
“Wait,” Jill grabbed the front door to the Post Office to stop Jack from entering. “Grims are basically death, so how can you guys die.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘Death’”, he countered, opening the door. “That’s just something humans invented on their own.”
He handed her a name tag as they walked through the door.
“Put this on and just follow my lead.”
Jack led Jill directly through the door marked “Employees Only” and pulled a clipboard out of his jacket. Things were so much more convenient now that he finally bought a jacket with a wormhole fixed to it.
“Jack! I haven’t seen you in forever,” a brown-haired woman squealed and ran up to him to give him a hug.
She had on one of those shapeless blue polo shirts all postal workers where and only a few actually look decent in. She had on one of those nametags that the employees write their names on in permanent marker themselves. It said ‘Sasha’ in loopy cursive.
Jack grinned and scratched the back of his head.
“Sasha, it’s so good to see you too!”
She took a step away from Jack and toward Jill, reaching out her hand.
“You must be Jack’s current indentured servant,” joked Sasha.
Jill looked confused as she shook Sasha’s hand.
“Umm…yeah, something like that.” She looked toward Jack for help.
“Intern. Sasha, she’s just an intern in postal service management,” he said, defending himself.
Sasha put her hand to her mouth to cover what she was saying to Jill.
“He literally brings a different person every single time I see him.”
“Sasha, I keep telling you it’s my job to show the interns the ropes,” he continued defending himself.
Sasha looked delighted with her teasing. She suddenly got a glimmer in her eye.
“Wait right here; I have a present for you! Don’t think I forgot it’s your birthday this week.”
She rushed through a door on loose hinges.
“Jack, you dog,” teased Jill. “You didn’t tell me you have a girlfriend or that it was your birthday!”
“Grims don’t have birthdays, but she asked so I had to give her some random date. And she’s not my girlfriend. We’re not allowed to date the living.”
“What?! Why not?”
“It causes problems; what if she dies in a few days and I have to take her to the Bridge. I could easily be tempted to keep her here so I could still be around her. I wouldn’t want to say goodbye.”
“You’re kidding me.”
Jill’s normal practicality and bluntness screeched into focus.
“Look here,” she said, grabbing the clipboard out of his hand. “You of all people should know that people die suddenly, and she obviously likes you; people don’t tease people like that unless they like them. Don’t waste your time just hoping things will work out. Seize the day and ask her on a date. She may die tomorrow; she may die in 40 years.”
Jill was using the clipboard to jab him in the chest.
“You’re going to take me to this Bridge-thingy and then you’re going to march over and take that girl to dinner. You’re going to have a great time and you’re not gonna give a crap about what your stupid grim managers think about it!”
Jill was really working herself up now.
“Stop wasting your life and — ”
“Okay,” he interupted. “Okay…sheesh, I’ll ask her on a date.”
“Perfect. Now let’s get to this Bridge so I can move on and you can go ask a beautiful woman to dinner.”
Jill was grinning and looked far too pleased with herself. She must’ve been a coach or an agressive librarian in life.
“Alright,” he sighed. “Follow me.”
They walked toward a set of industrial double doors. He pulled a key out of his jacket and inserted it into the door.
“Help me turn this.”
He was motioning to the steering-wheel shaped handle that needed two people to turn together.
After grunting for a moment the doors swung open to reveal a room full of cardboard boxes.
“What is this room?”
Jack breathed in deeply.
“This is the room where mail goes that never made it to a destination.”
“Where’s the Bridge supposed to be?”
“The Bridge isn’t like a physical bridge. It’s just what we call whatever happens that helps you go to the Next Place. I’m going to close the door behind you and you’ll wait a moment until something happens and you’ll be gone.”
“Oh…that seems so… sudden.”
Jill looked a lot more apprehensive then she did before.
“Don’t worry, things will be fine.”
He smiled at her, trying to help her feel more comfortable about the whole situation. It was something they emphasized on the first day of training. Make them feel comfortable so they’ll want to move on.
Jill ran up to him and gave him a short awkward hug.
“Okay, I think I’m ready. Thanks for your help.”
“Have a good trip,” he replied, moving to close the door.
He watched her wave until the door was completely closed.
He stepped away from the doors.
“Okay,” he said to himself. “Just go up to Sasha, tell her you like her, and ask her on a date; it’s that simple. Just like Jill said, I’ve got to seize the day.”
His pep talk was interruped by the soft knocking sound that announced his clipboard had a new assignment.
“Shoot,” he groaned. He’d look at his next assignment after talking to Sasha; before he lost his nerve.
He rushed to the side hallway Sasha went down. He’d have to hurry and ask Sasha out if he wanted to get to the next stiff in time. Managers usually gave grims just enough time to make it to a new assignment so they wouldn’t get distracted.
He opened the door on loose hinges and marched toward Sasha.
“Sasha — ” he stopped speaking almost immediately.
When she turned around she looked different; fainter.
He recognized that faintness. His eyes darted around hoping they wouldn’t find what he was searching for. Then he saw it: her legs were poking out from behind some fallen boxes and an over-turned ladder.
Sasha smiled when she saw him, but it faded slightly as she looked at her hands.
“Jack…I don’t feel right.”
She looked over at her prone body.
“Jack, did I die?”
Jack sighed and put his hand over his eyes, trying to keep Sasha from seeing the tears that were forming.
He just didn’t understand why life always had to work out like this.