It was a beautiful day. The azure sky adorned with specks of cottony clouds, a slight tinge of fragrant cherry blossoms in the breeze, sun shining merrily adding a golden glow to the twirling leaves, fresh dew on the grass; it was perfect.
Although she’d have preferred a cloudy and dark one, complete with thunder roaring in the distance, people huddled close in black umbrellas adding to the aesthetic; Helen didn’t complain. There was little one could do with the weather; that didn’t mean she couldn’t wish for one. Dead or not, a little drama was always fun.
It had been exactly twenty-seven earth hours since her death. She’d been waiting for a fair share of it, anticipating the arrival of afterlife service personnel to pick her up, mumbling to herself how the notion of time was common and erratic; be it local trains or transit to Elysium.
For the first few of said hours, Helen tried to remember the cause of her death to no avail. The next few, she slept for one last time in her warm, well-maintained and cozy bed (yes, even ghosts need sleep). With not much as a second thought, she decided she would attend her funeral. One good advantage of being dead- no need to overpay for cabs.
Out of many things she’d assumed, lonely wasn’t how the afterlife is supposed to be. She stood or floated or was in a state somewhere between the two under the yew tree at the cemetery. Contrary to popular belief, trees weren’t ghosting clubs; she chose the spot solely because it was cool and shady (fun fact: ghosts do tan). She watched the funeral procession with an undivided interest till an ear-splitting shriek cut through the air.
“HELEN! HELEN! OH, SWEET LORD. HELEN!”
“DORIS! IS THAT YOU!? OH, BLESS YOUR HEART.”
A warm greeting between two age-old friends.
“Oh my god, Helen. How badly I’ve missed you!” Doris squeezed the death out of her.
“Me too, dear. Me too”
Doris had entered the soul world six months prior to Helen due to an unfortunate accident involving a flat iron and a bathtub. Or was it the curling iron?
“Poor soul, how long have you been wandering on your own?”
“Don’t ask me that. It feels like eons.” Helen sighed.
“Oh, don’t you worry anymore.” the senior spirit assured.
“How did you find me?” the junior posed.
“Remember my aunt Donna? I met with her some time ago. She has a lot of contacts through which I found out that you were having your funeral today.” Doris grinned triumphantly.
“You knew I was going to die?”
“Of course not. If I knew, why would I have kept tabs on you?”
The idea of a spirit keeping tabs on you was certainly ominous. But not so much when you have become a part of the gang.
“Aunt Donna? The one with three cats named Veni, Vedi and Vici?”
“No, that was aunt Belladonna. Aunt Donna was the one with thirteen children.”
“Of course, she was.”
The duo shared a moment of silence letting the ambience of their surroundings seep in.
“That is a beautiful service.” Doris stated.
“Yes. Although, I’d have preferred a white hearse; mahogany is not really my taste.”
“I thought so. You always had a refined taste.”
“Aw. Not so much. I guess I should’ve gone for something a bit gauche considering I’m going to spend an eternity in this.” Helen stated, tugging at her off-white top.
“That, my dear, is now possible. We can change into anything we want; look at me slaying in couture. All you have to do is close your eyes and visualize it.”
She followed the instructions and found herself fitting in a beautiful short dress that fell right above her knees. It was a violent shade of pink.
“You look great!” Doris exclaimed.
“How come I can detect that you’re lying to me?”
Doris cast a wonder-filled glance at her.
“This is not fair. I’ve been here since forever and I haven’t been bestowed with this power!” she sent a plea towards the sky.
“No, I was just kidding. So, this indeed looks bad on me, huh?”
She looked flustered. “Pink is not really your shade.”
Helen closed her eyes and quickly changed into a blue shirt and beige pants.
“Pretty.” Doris smiled genuinely this time.
“We have superpowers?” it was Helen’s turn to wonder.
“You can have anything you want. You can travel anywhere free of cost, absorb any taste, you don’t need a membership card for anything at all, no cooking, no cleaning. No taxes.” Doris concluded with a broad gleam.
Helen nearly squealed with joy. If only she’d known earlier.
The service in honor of the squealing spirit went on nonchalantly. Family and friends were dressed elegantly in black, mourning with little to no tears. Helen’s gaze fell on one man who was sobbing uncontrollably.
“My poor husband.” Her voice cracked.
Within seconds Helen was crying hard on Doris’s shoulder. Doris was grateful for the absence of tears; ghost or not, you didn’t want your well-pressed couture embellishment spoiled.
“It’s gonna be okay dear. There there, collect yourself.” She stroked her hair.
Helen blew her non-existent nose on the handkerchief she managed to conjure. “He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the lot. Never appreciated my cooking. But he said he loved me.” She sniffled.
“Helen, now that we’re officially dead, I think it’s high time we spill all our secrets.”
“I never liked you being married to Lucas. I’ve always thought he was dumb, and obnoxious, and he laughed really loud. But he said he loved you and so when you told me all those years ago about your engagement, I shut my mouth.” Doris put on an empathetic expression.
“Thank you for being honest with me, Doris.” She gave her friend the overdue hug.
“You know. I’m glad you divorced Adam. He was too nerdy and skinny. He never said he loved you, but I knew you’d make good choices dear. You deserved better.” Helen huffed with a smile.
Doris reciprocated the same.
“So, tell me, can we whisper into people’s ears?” she asked wiping away the last of her absent tears.
“I tried. But no. We can listen to them though; I’ll teach you sometime.”
Helen nodded seriously.
“Where do we go from here?” she posed.
“What do you mean where?”
“You know, heaven. Or hell; no offense to either side.” She let out a nervous chuckle.
“There’s no afterlife.” Doris laughed.
The rookie ghost scrunched up her nose in confusion.
“I mean to say heaven and hell were just an elaborate ruse so when we cross over, we’d have a sense of morality. We can be wayfarers as long as we want and to quit would be our choice.”
Helen had a defeated look on her face, just like the one Doris had sported when she was informed of this great news. All those prayers, donations, festive decorations- a ruse?
“When we’re tired of roaming around, we can disintegrate ourselves.”
“Disintegrate?” Helen made sure to voice out her displeasure. The term certainly didn’t have a good ring to it.
“Yes, dear. We’ll go subatomic or get converted into some form of energy before we become one with the universe. Either of one.”
“Stop sciencing and speak human.”
“We’ll die again. Only this time, it’s our choice.”
“Oh look! It’s my son Jack.” Helen clamored.
Doris squinted her eyes to look.
“He has a beautiful wife” she declared.
Helen beamed with pride before her face fell.
“She’s a gem. Too bad I didn’t get to see my grandchild”
“No no, you can see them. Your choice, remember? You can hear them as well.” Doris did her best to comfort her friend.
An awkward and still moment followed.
“Who is that?” Doris pointed her silver wisp of a finger at a pretty young lady who stood lacing her fingers with Helen’s younger son, Matthew.
“Oh my god. I can’t believe this. I birthed that thug, put up with him for solid twenty years and he does this to me!? That too at my funeral!?”
“Who is she?”
“Zeta Jones. His supposed girlfriend. I told him to stop, I told him that. What? With the straw blonde hair and size zero figure, this idiot I have for a son won’t see the truth; she’s rich and entitled and exploiting my boy! Besides, who names their kid Zeta anyways?” Helen spat out.
“Sounds like trouble. Leave her, you don’t look a day over thirty. What’s your secret, huh?” Doris used the bait in an attempt to change the tone of their conversation which Helen bit readily.
“Aw, you flatter me. Do I seriously look the same?” she reflexively smoothed out her hair.
“Yes. I don’t know, a bit paler maybe? But you look the same.”
Helen took it as a compliment.
“Doris, are you sure we can’t whisper into people’s ears?” she sighed, glaring at her apparent nemesis.
“I’m sure. But I think we can move things with practice. We’ll see what we can do.” Doris assured.
Helen gave her a resolved nod.
“I don’t understand why people- sorry, ghosts- would want to end this.” She enquired.
“Exactly. We have the ultimate freedom and free will. It’s not like we’ll miss our loved ones; I mean, we can still see them at least. It’s like living minus the biological obligations.”
“We can do a lot more.”
“Hey, Helen. Remember that aerobics class we’ve always wanted to join but that lunatic of a receptionist wouldn’t redeem our coupon? Well, we have a small group of ladies who attend every Friday; you are coming with me.”
Helen positively screamed with excitement.
“And next weekend we’re travelling down to Maine, just a little sun and lots of fun.” Doris winked.
“Oh hush, you’re going to get me disintegrated out of joy.”
The spirits laughed unheard by the departing funeral crowd.
“This is better than life. Only fools would want to end this.” They declared.
Far up in the sky, where the worlds collided, god stood with her angel watching the events unfold. She turned to face the angel, who was biting his lip and staring at the ground (it’s relative, but you know) to conceal his embarrassment.
“And you, my dear angel, wonder why we don’t take humans into heaven.” She stated with a deep, heavenly and soothing voice.
“I understand now, my lord.” The angel bowed.
“There will come a day, when humans would truly appreciate the love they’re bestowed with, in their lifetime and when that happens, we’ll have visitors.” She patted his shoulders.
The gates of heaven chimed alerting the beings to new arrivals.
God went off to draft a welcome speech. The angel sat at the edge of the clouds for a long time, thinking about what the almighty had said. He then realized that maybe heaven didn’t miss human presence much.
After all, they have puppies.
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