Spirit Number: 815
Age: 92 years old
“Take my hand,” I say.
A tiny man named Clarence gives me the uncertain look I see every day. His eyes furrow, mouth hangs open as though he wants to say something.
“Don’t try to speak yet. It takes a few minutes, but it’ll come back to you.”
He stares at my hand for a second, then takes it. An inaudible sigh escapes his lips as his shoulders slump down into a noticeable curve.
“It can be a bit jarring at first, but you’ll get your bearings.”
As we glide up through the bloated clouds, Clarence silently screams—most of them do. He clings to my hand so hard, I’m sure if I could feel physical pain, I’d be crying out in agony. But he doesn’t need to—we won’t fall.
A crash of thunder echoes below.
I begin reciting The Script. Word for word. It’s the one aspect of my job I’m required to do exactly right or I get into trouble:
Insert spirit’s mortal name (Clarence), you have just passed beyond the mortal realm. You lived a life but now it is time for your spirit and body to be separated. Do not fear! I will help you with the transition. I know you must be feeling a plethora of emotions: confusion, sadness, anger, despair, joy, peace, relief, ecstasy. Do not try to fight these emotions as they will aid you in regaining yourself. I will get you to the right place, then you will know what to do from there.
Remember to smile at the spirit.
“I-I’m d-duh-dead?” Clarence stammers.
This is the part I hate the most about my job! Some spirits react poorly—wailing, gnashing teeth, spitting. Others cry a bit, then accept it quietly. But the worst are the ones who seem a bit too enthusiastic. They usually give me hugs. Sometimes kisses.
It’s just too much.
I brace for Clarence’s reaction. He looks at me, nods slightly, and says, “I hope M-MM-Myra is okay. I didn’t want to leave h-her alone.”
There's no script for this, but I’ve dealt with this reaction at least 730 times, so I’m prepared.
“Death is hard on everyone. There’s no doubt she will mourn you. She will probably feel lonely, at least for a while, but you had a good life together. Knowing you’re in a better place will give her strength to keep going.”
I don’t actually know if this is true. I don’t know Clarence. Or Myra. I don’t know whether they spent 60 blissful years together or 25 tumultuous ones, but I’ve found that spirits of good people will recognize things will be okay, and the not-so-good ones, well, I’m not with them long enough to care about how they feel.
Clarence hangs his head down. He’s feeling the sadness of separation. But, soon enough, he stares up at me and beams. A miniscule twinkle passes over his eyes. A literal wave of peace seeps into me.
Now I know—Clarence is one of the good ones.
We glide to our destination. In front of us are two doors. A glowing door made of pure gold and magnificent energy, and a rusty metal slab which appears to be from an old naval ship.
Clarence looks at me expectantly. “Now what?”
I hold out both arms, one pointing at each door. “You choose.”
His eyebrows push together. Head tilts slightly. I’ve seen this reaction over 790 times, but I don’t explain further.
His full attention is on the two entrances now. I already know his decision, but he needs to make it on his own. He hesitates, then raises one arm, and as he does, his decrepit body is transformed into something wonderful. Where his skin sagged and drooped over his battered frame, hardened muscles now cover it. His gentle, yet glassy eyes are bright and young again. He’s renewed.
He notices the change and laughs.
I’m not going to lie. I quite enjoy this part of my job.
He grabs the golden handle and steps inside. “Mom? Dad!” he exults.
Spirit Number: 816
Age: 45 years old
“Laura, you have just passed beyond the mortal realm. You lived a life but now it is time for your spirit and body to be separated. Do not fear! I will help you with the transition. I know you must be feeling a plethora of emotions: confusion, sadness, anger, despair, joy, peace, relief, ecstasy. Do not try to fight these emotions as they will aid you in regaining yourself. I will get you to the right place, then you will know what to do from there.”
Anger. It oozes out of her. Her head shakes wildly. Here it comes: the gnashing.
“This is a juh-juh-jo-joke!”
“It is not.”
As I watch, her lovely face turns into something ugly. Tiny fault lines appear all over her skin, trembling as though ready to burst. Her mouth opens wide, teeth protrude like cats’ claws. She pounces.
Now, the first time this happened, I was pretty terrified. I may or may not have shrieked. But now, it’s just another Tuesday. I sidestep through the air, sending her sprawling, howling in agony.
“Laura, please calm down. If you would, take my hand and we will get you to the right place,” I monotone.
It’s evident she’s not ready to accept her fate. Her next futile attack solidifies that fact. She barrels toward me, hands held out in front of her like scarecrow arms. Her teeth chomp at the air.
I don’t quite understand why the first reaction for some spirits is to attack me. I didn’t kill her. Or anyone. I didn’t make her life choices. I’m simply a celestial Uber driver.
This time I hold out my hand and before she can bite it off, I tap her on the forehead with my finger. She’s frozen. The cracks fade along her skin. Her monstrous teeth retract.
“Laura, take my hand,” I command.
She obeys, no longer fighting. We float up to the doors.
“Make your choice,” I say, pointing at the two options.
Without speaking again, her eyes focus on the doors. I’m not sure which one she is destined to choose. I mean, after her attack, I wouldn’t be surprised if she chooses ol’ rusty, but a spirit’s reaction to death isn’t always an indication of the type of person he or she was in life. Laura may very well choose the light.
She begins to float toward the lesser of the doors, the door reserved for spirits who could and should have made better choices in life, but as she lifts her hand to twist the knob, her skin changes again. Instead of cracks, it emits a solid beam of light. She was already beautiful, but with this added light, she becomes radiant—beyond beautiful. More beautiful than a sunrise over whitecapped mountains. More beautiful than a newborn child staring into the eyes of his mother. That’s when she makes a course correction and floats in front of the golden entrance. A perfectly enticing smile spreads across her face as she takes the handle.
She disappears inside.
Spirit Number: 817
Age: 63 years old
“You’re t-telling me that I’m-mumum dead, and you’re here to help me get into heavvven?” a tall, skeleton of a man asks.
“Not exactly,” I explain. “Yes, you are dead. But I do not make judgements. You know who you are and where you belong. I just get you to the entrances, and the rest is up to you.”
“In other words, your j-job is useless.” Ethan snorts. “And you’re stuck doing it forever? Wow, g-guyyyy, you being punished or something?”
Sometimes I wish it took spirits longer to regain their ability to speak. This is one of those times.
This man, Ethan, is only my sixth time that a spirit has asked anything about me. And only the second time they’ve been so...obnoxious.
“Ethan, take my hand, and I will get you where you need to go,” I say in an attempt to ignore him.
“No frickin’ way. I ain’t holding your h-hand. Just point me in the right direction.”
I give him one agreeable nod and point up to the area between the atmosphere and the greater space above. “You will find doors up there.”
“Later, loser!” He calls as he floats away.
Technically, I’m supposed to follow the spirits even if they refuse my aid, but I don’t feel like being around Ethan any longer. The darkness that surrounds him feels like a boulder on my heart. So, I watch from down below.
Confidently, he heads straight for the golden door. He rests his hand on the handle, but instead of pushing the door open, his hand drops. Now he turns his attention on the rusty one. I notice his shoulders slump as he accepts his fate.
He places his bony finger on the knob of this darkened door. As he does so, his emaciated body plumps up. It solidifies into a statuesque figure. And although his body is perfection now, he doesn’t let off that glow that accompanies the others.
The door opens and he steps in.
Spirit Number: 818
Age: 11 months old
“Hey, sweetheart,” I coo.
“Oh wow, you’re so handsome!” this tiny, curly haired, beautiful angel of a baby replies.
“Why, thank you! You’re pretty adorable yourself.”
She giggles. And even though she’s so small, she’s a giant in my eyes. She’s a special spirit, and I can sense that.
“Ava, you have just passed beyond the mortal realm. You lived a life but now it is time for your spirit and body to be separated. Do not fear—”
“Oh, I’m not afraid! I feel...at peace. I get to go home.”
I falter. I’m not used to people interrupting The Script. They always remain silent. It’s kind of a rule. Of course, I’ve never guided such a young spirit to the doors before, so maybe this is how it goes.
Ava settles into my arms, completely relaxed.
“That is true,” I say. “Many people are afraid to leave their old lives behind and that scares them.”
She places her tiny hand on my cheek. “I lived a short, yet meaningful life. I had two loving parents who sacrificed for me. A sister who played with me even though I was no fun. They cared for me the best they could. But I wasn’t meant for mortality for too long. My body was born broken. But now...now, I’m no longer in pain.”
“You are wise beyond your months,” I say.
She giggles again. “Don’t let my baby façade trick you. My spirit is just as mature as your own.” She winks.
I grin. “Well, are you ready to return home, Ava?”
She nods as we float ever higher. I place her next to the golden door. There’s no choice for these little ones—it's the first truth they teach in training. They return home with trumpets sounding and angels singing!
She stands up on her chubby legs, stretches her hands above her head. The purity permeating her body completely envelopes her. She’s lost from my view. When my eyes finally adjust, she is no longer an infant. She is a stunning woman, as tall or taller than I am. And as lovely as a rainbow shining through the mist of a waterfall.
She turns back toward me, teeth flashing in my direction. “Thank you, Jacob.”
“You’re wel...Wait, how do you know my name?” I ask.
“Because, Jacob, today is a special day. Not only for me, but for you as well.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“Have you ever wondered why you’ve never guided small children to the doors before?”
I admit that the thought had crossed my mind. “I just assume they send more seasoned guides to do that.”
She shakes her head. “Children already know the way. Up to a certain age, their spirits are only a few paces away from their true home. So, when they—we— die, we either find our way to the doors ourselves, or we’re tasked with helping another. And today, I’ve been tasked to help you.”
I still don’t quite understand what she’s talking about. This isn’t in the handbook of instructions.
She holds out her hand. “Jacob, you have just passed beyond the mortal realm. You lived a life but now it is time for your spirit and body to be separated. Do not fear! I will help you with the transition....” She continues on through the rest of The Script then smiles at me.
“What do you mean? I’ve been dead for a while,” I say.
“No, Jacob, you haven’t.”
For the first time in a long time, I feel utterly perplexed. Of course, I’ve been dead. I’ve been helping spirits to the doors for at least a year, or more, or less. Time is confusing up here.
I don’t voice any of this because Ava somehow knows what I’m thinking.
“You have not been dead. You’ve simply been in a coma for seven months. An in-between existence. And just today, your family made the decision to take you off life support. It’s your time.”
“No, no, no, I--”
“I know it can be jarring, but don’t fight the emotions. Remember what you’ve been taught to say. Let them help you back to yourself. You will come to the truth.”
I close my eyes.
Confusion, disbelief, anger, fear, hope, joy, peace.
“I am dead.”
She nods. “Take my hand.”
Without hesitation, I float up to her. When our hands meet, I’m filled with sweet elation. A light surrounds me, no, effuses from me.
I know which door I have been permitted to choose.
Together, we grasp the handle of the golden door, turn it, push it open, and....