Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Retrieval Department


Most of my friends considered me unlucky.  That was because my date was the day after my twenty-first birthday, the day I would die, for reasons only the Retrieval Department knew.  My friends all were marked with dates far in the future, guaranteeing them long fruitful lives.  So, I was the anomaly, chosen by those who chose such things to die an early death. 

Of course, I had known this as long as I could remember, or at least from the time when I knew enough to ask what the date tattooed on my arm meant.  I remember the day my mother explained things.  I remember wondering why life was so important anyway.  I wasn’t the least bit upset.  In fact, I looked forward to my death and my journey to the great beyond.

That said, when I woke up in the alley behind my favorite bar and looked at the date on my watch, I felt like I had been screwed.  This was the day after my death day.  Someone had messed something up, and I intended to find out who that someone was and make them rectify the situation.  Of all the things I had looked forward to in life, my death day was by far the greatest.

Of course, as you might imagine, given that I woke up in an alley behind a bar, I was not in great shape.  I don’t know how much I drank that night in anticipation of the end, but I felt like I might die right then.  However, I didn’t die, so I got up, brushed myself off and went into the bar.

The bar, Harrigan’s, had just opened.  Krisztina, the day bartender looked up as I walked through the front door, shock on her face.  Of course, she knew my death day.  I had made no secret of it.

“Mark, is that you?” said Krisztina shock on her face.

“Yup.”

“You’re supposed to be…”

“I know.  The Retrieval Department seems to have screwed up,” I said, sitting at the bar.

Krisztina knew me well enough to know that I wanted a beer and a shot of whiskey and promptly served me.

“Didn’t anyone from Retrievals call you?” she said.

I looked at my phone, but saw no missed calls.  “Nope,” I said.

“Maybe they couldn’t find you? Where were you yesterday?”

“Well, I was here until eleven then I passed out in the alley,” I said.

“So what are you going to do?” said Krisztina.

“I guess I’m going to call the Retrieval Department and have them take care of it.”

“Why would you do that?  Maybe they won’t figure it out, and you’ll get to live.”

“I’d rather have them take care of it.  I am ready to die.”

“Really?” said Krisztina, shocked.  I had never told her this before, and generally didn't tell anyone, although whenever people asked how I felt about my death date, I always said I was comfortable with it.

“Yeah.  It’s never bothered me.  In fact, I was looking forward to dying,” I said.

“They are going to take me on my sixty-sixth birthday,” said Krisztina.  “I still think that’s too soon.”

“Well, I don’t know.  Seems like a long time to me.  Too long,” I said.  I downed my shot and made a big dent in my beer before saying, “What do I owe you?”

“On the house, Mark.  Look, if I don’t see you again I want you to know that I’ve always liked you.  Just wanted you to know that,” said Krisztina.

It just so happened that I liked Krisztina, but had never made a move, thinking she wouldn’t be interested in someone with an early death date.  In fact, I had never been in a relationship because of my death date, not so much because nobody would have me as I just didn’t want to let someone get hurt.

“Thanks, Krisztina.  You know, I’ve always had a thing for you, but I figured that it would be a bad idea to try to get together with you if I was going to die soon.”

“I wish you had,” she said.

“I do too,” I said, meaning it.  “Okay.  I’ve got to go figure this out.”

I left the bar and went home.  There I looked up the number for the Retrieval Department and gave them a call, thinking things would soon be sorted out.

“Retrievals, this is Blake,” said the man on the line.

“Hey, my name is Mark Seidl and I was supposed to die yesterday, but I am still alive,” I said.

“One second, Mr. Seidl.  Let me look you up.  What is your birth ID?”

“009X23AZ,” I said.

“I have it.  Um, I see you haven't been notified yet,” said Blake.

“Notified?”

“Well, Mark, you are dead.  You were retrieved yesterday at eleven thirty-seven in an alley behind Harrigan’s.”

“Then you got the wrong guy.  I was in that alley yesterday around that time, but I woke up there today and I am quite alive.”

“Let me explain,” said Blake.  “You are dead.  I understand you think you’re not dead, but let me assure you that you are dead.  It happens sometimes, you know.  Not often, of course, but some people just don’t want to move on.”

“If I’m dead then how am I talking to you?” I said.

“That’s a good question.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer.  I could connect you to one of our counselors.  Maybe they can help you adjust to things,” said Blake.

“Look, I just want to be dead.  I don’t want to be half dead or whatever I am,” I said.

“We do not have the ability to send you off into the great beyond, Mr. Seidl.”

“So am I going to be like this forever?”

“Well, maybe not forever.  There are cases where the dead who have not gone to the great beyond do move on, although not many.  I mean, I don’t want to get your hopes up.  Now, Mr. Seidl, there is an issue we need to talk about.  You’re apartment is going to be rented out and all of your belongings are going to be sold.  Further, whatever funds you have in your accounts will be appropriated by the Retrieval Department to cover the cost of your death.  I recognize this will leave you with no place to live and would like to encourage you to find lodgings with someone willing to take you in,” said Blake.

“Wait a minute,” I said, having some difficulty accepting Blake's claim.  "Am I a ghost or something?  I don't understand.  If I'm dead then how am I talking to you?  What exactly did you retrieve?"

"We retrieved your soul, but because your body was not technically fully dead, the techs left you in the alley.  Normally, we would have informed you at the time, but apparently you were out cold."

"Hold on a second.  You took my soul?"

"Yes, Mark.  However, you still have your body because your soul did not fully move on."

"Why on Earth would you rent out my apartment if I'm not dead?  And my money?  I'm going to need that.  You know, I have rights.  You can't just take everything from me because I didn't move on to the great beyond.  Where am I going to live?  How am I going to feed myself and what the hell am I going to do in the winter?"

"Yes, I understand your concerns, but given that you are not truly alive, you no longer have the same rights as the living.  To be completely honest, I don't agree with the policy, but I really am in no position to change things.  Now, I have to tell you something rather important.  Your body is going to start decomposing and that might be a problem.  You won't feel any pain, and to address your question about winter, extreme heat and cold won't affect you.  We have heard from others in your circumstances that you will probably feel like you have a bad hangover and that feeling will persist as long as you remain here.  Also, you are going to smell pretty bad in the near future, so you might want to steer clear of populated areas."


“So, I’m going to decompose.  When I fully decompose will I be aware of what’s going on?” I said.

“Yes, you will, or at least we think you will.  For that reason, I have to advise you to find a way to move on into the great beyond,” said Blake.

“How long before I stink?”

“A few days,” said Blake.

“Don’t you have places for people like me to live?  Is there nowhere to go?” I said, unwilling to give up and praying that Blake would say at least one thing that might give me hope.

“We do not have any vacancies in our staging apartments right now, but I can get you on the waiting list,” said Blake.

"How long is the wait?" 

"About three years, unfortunately.  I know this must be really difficult for you.  I will put you on the waiting list.  Just check in in about a year or two just in case we can fit you in."

“Please do.  Is there anyone who knows how I can get to the great beyond?”

“You could try a psychic.”

“Great.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” said Blake.

“No.  Thank you.”  I hung up and returned to the bar, explaining everything to Krisztina, who stared at me dumbfounded for some time before saying, “You could move in with me.  I mean you could wear perfume and that should mask the smell.”

“I don’t want to put you through that.  Do you know any psychics?” I said.

“No, but I can find you one,” she said.

An hour later I knocked on the door of Diantha Blane, psychic, medium or whatever.  Krisztina found her on some website.  I gave Diantha a hundred dollars and she seated me in a small room with a round table in the center.  Sitting across from me, she asked me to place my hands on the table palms up.  She placed her hands on mine.

“Why did you want to die?” said Diantha.

“I don’t know.  I guess I didn’t see much point in living.”

“And while you were living did you live?”

“What do you mean?”

“What did you do with your life?” she said.

“I don’t know.  I had a crappy job and I drank a lot.  I didn’t have many friends.  I mean, I didn’t want people to get too attached since I had such an early death date.  Does it matter?” I said.

“Well, do you regret that?” she said.

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  I was looking forward to dying and seeing the great beyond.”

“You have a love interest,” said Diantha.

“Well, I don’t know if I would say that.  I like someone.  But, do I love her?”

“You do.  I can see it clearly now.  Mark, you will not be free until you resolve this issue.”

“It is resolved.  I can’t have her.  I’m dead.  So, I should be moving on,” I said, now annoyed.

“No, it’s not.  You must have a relationship with her,” said Diantha.

“But, I’m dead.  She’ll never have a relationship with me.  Is there any other way?”

“I’m afraid not.”

I left Diantha and returned to the bar.  I had no intention of telling Krisztina what Diantha had said, not wanting to put her in an uncomfortable position, so I told her that I had unresolved issues I had to deal with.  Krisztina asked me what those issues were and I said I didn’t know.  In that moment, two things happened.  Krisztina dropped to the ground behind the bar and two men wearing Retrieval Department tech uniforms rushed into the bar.

“Where is she?” said one of them to me.

“Behind the bar,” I said.  “What’s going on?”

They rushed behind the bar, whispering to each other.  I heard one of them say, “There’s going to be hell to pay,” and the other say, “Well, how were we supposed to know?  They gave us the wrong ID.”

“Uh, guys, what’s going on?” I said.

The two men rose and Krisztina rose with them, staring right at me.  I knew then that she had died and that she hadn’t gone to the great beyond.

“Hey,” I said to Krisztina, ignoring the two completely befuddled employees of the Retrieval Department.  “I guess we’re in this together.”

“I guess we are."