I came up with the idea for this story in hopes of submitting it to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge from December 2, “An Affliction of Alliteration”, but didn’t quite get the idea fleshed out in time to submit it. (By the way, if you haven’t stumbled upon his terribleminds blog, check it out! He’s hilarious and gives great advice.)
The skeleton wearing a long cloak and a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face looks down at the list in his hand, checking his next appointment. He hops up into the driver’s seat of his coach and snaps the reins at the four onyx steeds in the harnesses. The horses snort, paw at the ground, and gallop off. After a few yards, the entire coach—horses, driver, and all—disappears into thin air.
It reappears in a serene neighborhood where the sweeping lawns are lush emeralds and the sky is a clear sapphire. The citrine sun sparkles high above. On the nearest lawn, a football game is in progress. The laughter and joyful shouting almost drown out the birdsong in the background. The skeleton dismounts his carriage and approaches the sidelines of the makeshift field.
The quarterback spirals the football to a teammate and turns his dark hair and matching eyes to the skeleton. Alarm crinkles the brow of his otherwise flawless olive skin.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Your time is up. You must come with me,” the skeleton barks gruffly.
“To the afterlife.”
“But I’m already in the afterlife. See?” he gestures to his surroundings. There isn’t a flaw anywhere. No threatening clouds, no dead grass, not even a crack in the sidewalk.
“That’s not possible. I have you here on my list of Newly Dead,” the gruffness leaves the skeleton’s voice as he points to Deangelo’s name on the list.
“Well, I guess that makes me double dead, then, because I died a decade ago.”
“I can’t believe this,” the skeleton says, throwing his hat on the ground. “If this is some kind of joke, just ‘cos I’m the new guy…”
“Look, this should be easy—I’m already here, so you don’t actually have to do anything.”
“But all new arrivals have to check in at Intake. If I don’t bring you in, I could lose my job.”
“All right, then. Maybe they can work this whole thing out. I bet there’s another Deangelo Ventura you’re supposed to take.”
Deangelo joins the skeleton on the perch of the carriage, and the horses pull them into thin air.
When they reappear, they are outside a small log cabin. They start for the front door, when the skeleton stops. He makes a face that suggests constipation, and his body starts to jerk.
“Are you okay?” Deangelo asks as the skeleton appears to get thicker.
In a matter of seconds, the skeleton has transformed into a fully fleshed man. Deangelo is surprised to see his gruesome guide has sandy hair, blue eyes, and a face one could forget as soon as it turned away. He was almost expecting Bengt Ekerot.
“Molly freaks out when I show up in my other form.”
They go inside, where a slender woman with short, curly brown hair sits behind a desk pieced together with unfinished wood. Her tortoise-shell rimmed glasses perch on her pointy nose, distorting her small round eyes. Her thin lips bend into a carefully practiced smile as she greets the skeleton and his companion.
“Well, hi there, Skelly! Who do we have here?”
Skelly introduces Deangelo and explains the problem. Molly fiddles with her keyboard. She reads information off her computer screen, then turns to Deangelo.
“Apparently, it was a typo. In your file, it says your Death Date is 11/27/2011, but on the requisition form, it says 2001.”
“You mean, someone typed in one little wrong digit, and I lost ten years of my life?”
“I know how you must feel…Actually, I don’t have any idea how you feel. I can only imagine your emotional suffering. Because of the inconvenience, I’m going to edit your file and get you back home for the ten years you missed.”
“You’re going to, what, turn back time?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Molly frowns in what she seems to think is a sincere manner. “But Skelly will escort you back to the physical plane, and you won’t see him again for another ten years.”
Molly shows Deangelo the new date in his file: 11/27/2021.
“But what will I do? I’ve been dead for a decade! I can’t just pick up where I left off.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that,” Molly tries to look disappointed.
“It’ll give you more time with your family. And this time, you’ll get to say goodbye,” Skelly says.
Deangelo agrees to return. Molly’s syrupy farewell chases them out the door.
“See you in ten years, Mr. Ventura!”
Deangelo and Skelly climb into the waiting carriage, and Skelly urges the horses into thin air once again.
They reappear in front of a house Deangelo knows well. His grandfather built the house himself. His father was born there; he was born there; his son was born there. Deangelo climbs out of the carriage. Skelly tips him a wave and he and his horses disappear.
Deangelo’s mind turns to his wife. They met his senior year in college. She had come with some of her girlfriends into the deli where he had been working. He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her cascading, caramel hair and wide hazel eyes. Lucky for him, she hadn’t minded.
She moved home with him after he graduated and the baby came the following year. He had seven more amazing years with his family before his life was rudely—and apparently erroneously—cut short.
He can’t go back. They have already mourned him. Is it really fair to show up on their doorstep, unchanged after ten years, then make them mourn him again in another ten? He loves his family more than anything in this world, but to reappear, to tease them, is just cruel.
Deangelo looks up the road, thoughtful. With one last forlorn glance to the house he built his old life in, Deangelo starts up the road, pondering how to spend the ten years of his new life.
What do you think? What would you have done, if you had been given the chance to live ten more years of your life after being dead so long?