Fantasy Speculative

Gavin J. Hubbard Junior, lately of London, Ontario, Canada, grunted with exasperation as his insubstantial astral body began to ooze through the chair he was sitting on. If he had known how annoying life after death could be, he would have taken better care of himself. Not that it would have changed anything. There wasn’t much wrong with his forty-two-year-old body until the sixteen-wheeler flattened his car.

It was all that stupid therapist’s fault. “Take a little detour to a pretty place, sit quietly and unwind instead of bringing all your stress home to unload on your wife. You’ll be surprised what a difference that makes.”

Gavin was surprised, all right. With no warning, he had been catapulted into this insane metauniverse of life-after-life, which did not meet his expectations at all.

Would he ever master selective substantiation? For a moment, he considered simply letting go. Sink through the floor, the floor below it, on and on until he reached the ground, and then what? Deeper and deeper, into the centre of the planet, if this really was a planet and not just some crazy comatose nightmare? Or perhaps up, up and away, leaving the familiar stars behind, boldly traveling into the unknown? Or would he fold in on himself, a blob of cosmic jello? If he was asked to rate and review his experience when it was all over, he would certainly object to the fragmented and misleading information he was given. Management needed to get their act together and compose a clear, complete and accessible pdf manual complete with a search engine.

He puffed himself into an upward surge, then let himself drift down gently until he made contact with the upholstery on the chair. He didn’t know why he was in Encounter Room #93, or what was going to happen, but he was determined to make a good impression. He had to prove his suitability for an upper level placement. No matter how many of their insane interviews, focus groups and orientation module downloads they threw at him, he would remain relentlessly cheerful and co-operative. That’s how he had gotten ahead in his former life, and he was confident that the same strategies would work here.

He did not trust his keepers, not a bit. Their tongues dripped with counterfeit honey as they soothed his anxieties, insisting that he was a valuable member of the cosmoweb. The tribulations of the Post-Mortem Triage and Adjustment Centre would soon be over, they promised. Just a little more evaluation was needed to determine the most compatible stream of consciousness option available.

A stream? He didn’t like the sound of that. He hadn’t given much thought to the afterlife, but he had never imagined anything as dynamic as a stream. You went to the good place and were perfectly happy doing absolutely nothing, or you went to the bad place and were perfectly miserable doing absolutely nothing. You were permanently stuck. No streaming.

How long had he been waiting in this stupid room furnished only with a desk, two chairs, and a TV screen so big that the people would appear life-size? He lifted his arm to glance at his Rolex knock-off watch, and dropped it again, remembering that there were no watches here because he was outside time. Eiolyn, his Personal Adjustment Counselor, had assured him that the sense of passage of time was s superstitious hang-over from his previous existence, and would fade as soon as he learned to pay no attention to it. Gavin took that with a grain of salt – how was he supposed to trust anyone who was both male and female at the same time?

He sensed a presence in the power seat facing him. A faint whiff of lilacs. And then his spouse Beatrice materialized, exactly as he remembered her, smiling that same gentle smile she pasted on her face whenever she tuned out his rants, pleas, and lamentations, refusing to concede that her parents really should stop micromanaging their lives.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded. “What happened? Did you die too?”

“Everyone dies,” Beatrice said without changing her benign expression. “I had a long and productive life first. I even had one of my paintings accepted by the National Art Gallery.”

“But I just got here a few days ago! How can so much time have passed?”

“We’re outside time, remember?”

“So they say. But it doesn’t make sense.” Despite his best efforts to maintain his composure, he began to pontificate. “Nothing makes sense here. I don’t need to eat or sleep or shave or go to the toilet, so there’s no predictable rhythm. I just float around and pray I don’t bump into someone, because it’s a really weird feeling when we start to merge and their thoughts and feelings are right there inside me. There isn’t even anything good on TV – just endless replays of my past life, and alternative scenarios to show me what might have been if I had chosen differently. They keep downloading information directly into my brain – assuming I still have one – and it undermines everything I thought I knew. How long is this going to go on? And what happens when it’s over? I’ve never been so out of control in my life.”

She nodded. “I’m struggling too. But you’re here and I’m here, so let’s talk.”

“What is there to talk about? I tried to do something positive for our marriage, and got killed instead! If I had gone straight home as usual and unloaded my stress as usual, we could have gotten old together.”

“That’s highly unlikely. I knew about Marianne.”

Gavin’s body started blinking in a most disconcerting manner. “What? When? How?”

“We met at an art show. Since neither of us took your name when we married, we didn’t suspect a thing. We really bonded over our ‘my dumbass husband’ stories. Then one of us happened to drop your name, and we just stared at each other, dumbfounded.  ‘Gavin J. Hubbard Junior?’ we exclaimed simultaneously. Then we started laughing hysterically.”

Gavin’s body started to dissolve, dripping onto the floor. When he regained consciousness, he was lying on a gurney, being reconstituted by two technicians. “Not to worry,” one of them murmured soothingly. “Dissolution is quite common while you’re orienting. Relax, avoid stressful emotions as much as possible, and abstain from all forms of deception. You’ll be fine. Astral bodies never die.”

All too soon he was back in his chair, facing Beatrice, who was grinning, showing no sign of distress whatsoever. She continued the conversation as if nothing unusual had happened. “Marianne and I decided to play you along until we had time to devise a … robust response. You’re probably lucky that you died before we took action.”

“So that patronizing twit of a therapist was right after all?”

Beatrice chuckled. “He was insipidly inadequate, wasn’t he? Everything that came out of his mouth was a direct quote from Forever, Never or Whatever? I don’t know how that piece of trash ever made it onto the mass market.”

“Why did you agree to go to therapy, knowing there was no point?”

“I was trying to placate mother. She paid a surprise visit and found me in tears. It was just my pregnancy hormones, but I wasn’t ready to tell her that. So I spun a sad tale about our relationship, and she pulled out her phone and called her mental health clinic and insisted it was an emergency.”

“Pregnancy?” Gavin’s body started tingling around the edges, as if it was going to deconstruct again. “How could you be pregnant? I had a vasectomy!”

Beatrice raised an eyebrow and waited for the penny to drop.

“Oh,” Gavin gasped weakly. “Adultery. You committed a--”

“Impossible,” Beatrice interrupted. “Our marriage was invalid under Canadian law.”

“So what did you do after … my accident?”

“I waited until Charlotte was born, and then started dating Geoff.  We let everyone think that you were the father. Your father suddenly took an interest in us. He was ecstatic to have a granddaughter. Charlotte had every possible advantage, and turned the art world upside down with her Cosmic Canoe series. She was even awarded an Order of Canada.”

“Did you marry Geoff? Was it good?” Gavin asked. He didn’t really want to know, but he was driven by morbid curiosity.

“Almost perfect. I was hesitant at first, but once I realized that he really loved me, I just let go and immersed myself in him, our children, my art, and my life.”

“I loved you!”

“Cut the crap, Gavin, or you’ll melt down again. You married me because my father was a millionaire, and you thought it was a shortcut to commercial success.”

Gavin looked down at the floor. “It didn’t work. All I got out of it was you, and the possibility of a criminal record.”

“Dad set you up in your own travel agency, directed lucrative business your way, and sent us on two luxury cruises a year. What more could you ask?”

“He wouldn’t let me design my own tours. It was all that fancy intellectual folderol. The people I knew wanted beer and football games and raunchy sing-alongs in pubs. It was hell for me, you know. Absolute hell.”

“It wasn’t that great for me either,” Beatrice said. “On the rare occasions that you were at home, you never stopped whining about the substandard quality of your overprivileged life. By a twist of fate, you got a change of scenery, and I got to follow my heart and develop my art career. Sounds like a win-win to me.”

Gavin grabbed the desk and floated to his feet. “No! We never reached our full potential because our story was interrupted. If I had come home alive that day, we would have worked something out. I know it.”

“There are a hundred and sixty-seven alternative scenarios on file. We never get legally married in any of them.”

“A hundred and sixty-seven?” Gavin squeaked. “I was expecting one or two, a half dozen at the most.”

“I don’t know what I would have said or done that night. Every choice we make closes some doors and unlocks others, but no one is compelled to go through them.”

“I really messed up,” Gavin said. His body started to resume its shape. “I knew it was wrong not to disclose that I was married, but marrying you seemed like the only way to get a foothold with your Dad, so I just drifted along, and next thing I knew, I was standing at the front of the church and you were sailing down the aisle in a white dress.” He sat up straight in his chair, vitality pulsing through his limbs. “I wish I could change that, but it’s done.”

“And it worked out well,” Beatrice said. “As well as it could. Would you like to watch the alternative scenarios and see for yourself?”

“Just pick your favourite. I don’t think I’m going to like any of them.”


Gavin parked in the driveway and bounced towards the house, carrying a huge bouquet of snapdragons, daisies, lilies, and four other varieties of flowers he couldn’t identify. Beatrice was in the kitchen, stirring chicken soup.

He threw his arms around her from behind and shut off the burner. “Never mind that,” he said, nuzzling her neck. “I’m going to take you out for dinner, and then we’ll plan our second honeymoon. I’ve arranged to take three weeks off next month.”

Beatrice took the flowers, extricated herself from his arms, and threw them in the trash. “Not tonight. You’re fully booked.”

“What? A tour consultation I forgot about? Surely we can postpone—“

“Marianne is on her way over with the police. Bigamy is a criminal offence in this country. You are going to spend jail time.  I don’t think Father will be interested in continuing your franchise after that.”

Gavin scurried to the door and peered out. No flashing lights so far.

“We could run away – start over! I can make it up to you. I promise!”

“Not a chance. I’m pregnant, and I’ll be starting over with someone who is not you.”

Gavin stared at her like a deer in the headlights. Then he pulled himself together, strode to the door, and yanked it open.

Marianne was standing on the steps, flanked by two policemen.

“Game over,” she said. 


Beatrice clicked the remote. “Do you want to see more?”

Gavin shook his head. “That therapist was right after all, although there was no way he could have known why. That impaired trucker did us both a favour.”

“That’s what I thought at first,” Beatrice said. “But I watched every one of those scenarios because I wasn’t sure. Some of them show you re-building your life, reconnecting with the children you had with Marianne, becoming a contented grandfather. I didn’t want you to have anything but misery when I first started watching, but I gradually mellowed. Things look a lot different when viewed from this side.”

“Do you think they’ll make me meet with Marianne?”

“Probably. I’m sure she’s dying to tell you exactly what she thinks.”

“Yeah, she was … is … a bit of a firebrand.” Despite the gravity of the situation, Gavin was starting to feel better. Beatrice was a lot more approachable now that she was dead. He sat and pondered for an eternity and no time at all.

“What do you think they’ll do with us?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I just hope they don’t send us to the same place. That would really be hell.”

“I wouldn’t mind. You’re right about me and the love thing. I just went through the motions. But maybe that can change.”

“And pigs can fly,” Beatrice said. “Can you hear the angels snickering?” But she didn’t sound angry at all.

May 05, 2023 08:19

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