George William Scrivens died the way he had lived – quietly and without a fuss. It came as bit of a surprise, even to him. One minute he was sitting in his cosy front room, preparing to watch his favourite programme on the television with a piping hot cup of tea. The next he was floating in the air staring down at his own body, slumped in his comfy chair as if he had fallen asleep. Perplexed he looked around. He watched as a diaphanous wisp of steam curled from the cup of tea cooling next to his neatly folded newspaper. The usual adverts could be heard from the television. Not that he would be wanting a cheap holiday in the sun or even shopping from a cut-price supermarket anytime soon. Nothing had changed except that he was hovering near the ceiling while his body was lifeless in his MaxiComfort dual control recliner.
‘Bugger me,’ he thought, ‘I’ve only just bought that. Cost me a bit, too.’
Time passed and George William Scrivens was disappointed to discover that he was not missed. The television churned out the same old programmes and he heard the clicks and whoomphs as the central heating came on and then went off at its appointed times. His newspaper flopped through the letterbox each morning and the junk mail built up on the hall carpet. He had locked both front and back doors against the possibility of burglars the night before he had sat down and died. No one could just walk in, but no one came knocking either. He was of an age when many of his friends had already breathed their last and his social life seemed to revolve around funerals. Even his son did not ring but then it wasn’t his birthday for another few weeks. ‘He’s a busy young man, George thought to himself. ‘Always busy with something or another.’
Some things did change though and George William Scrivens was not sure they were for the best. For a start his body turned quite pale, and he began to look shrunken and frail. ‘I don’t look so good,’ thought George to himself. He felt a little faded if he was to tell the truth and hanging about on his ceiling was giving him vertigo.
Then there were the flies. The room was quite warm. The little gas fire was on and because the door was permanently closed the heat had built up. There were blasted big blue bottles buzzing and crawling all over everything, especially him – well, the body that had been him.
‘It’s a good job I’m not still in there,’ George told himself as he scratched a non-existent itch. ‘I’m not as nimble with the newspaper as I used to be.’
Having so much time on his hands George William Scrivens began to ponder why he had not been missed. He found there were many reasons, all the result of a neatly automated and soulless lifestyle where computers ruled. His pension was paid straight into his bank and his bills were all dealt with by direct debit. That meant that not only did he not have to visit the post office to collect his money, but no one arrived to check why he had missed a payment or to turn off the electricity. He rarely saw anyone when going about his daily routine as most of his neighbours drove everywhere. Those that did walk had their eyes turned firmly to their phone screens.
There had been a time when George knew everyone on the little housing estate where he lived. People he stopped to talk to; people who spoke to him. Now he wouldn’t recognise his next-door neighbour if he met him in the Co-op; should his neighbour went to the Co-op rather than having his shopping delivered. You didn’t have to see a person any more.
And how long was he supposed to hang about near his ceiling? Didn’t you have to do something when someone died? Inform people - the authorities? Perhaps he would try something later, he was very tired. He felt faded like a favourite shirt after too much washing, colourless and limp.
George William Scrivens watched his body bloat and his shade fluttered like smoke in a sudden draught when he heard it break wind loudly as the built-up gases were released. He would have been in trouble if his wife, God rest her soul, had heard that.
He considered the putrefaction of his mortal remains. People must be able to smell him. The postman? The next door neighbour? He couldn’t smell anything. He didn’t feel anything much. He was tired though and wanted to move on but seemed anchored to the room watching himself slowly deteriorate. He began to wonder if this was what it was going to be like for the rest of eternity. If so it wasn’t going to be much fun. He wasn’t particularly religious but had rather hoped he might end up in heaven after his demise.
He was just beginning to think that even hell might be a tad less tedious when a sudden banging brought him to the present. He didn’t know how long he had hung there. Time was becoming fluid, and he was beginning to drift in and out of reality. He heard a key in the lock, the living room door burst open, and his son was in the room. Then he was not. Thomas William Scrivens heard retching from the kitchen. He had to admit that the body looked pretty bad now. The skin had blackened and stretched over his bones, leaving his face in a grimace that was quite frightful if you weren’t expecting it.
His son had left all the doors open. ‘Born in a barn, that one. Never did shut a door.’ George muttered to himself. The flies would be all over the house. George William Scrivens found he didn’t care. He could move on to the next plane now that the way was open.