The Afterlife of Theodore Gibbs

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Case File: Intermediate Soul No. 7593 

Novice Assessor Report Completed By: Francine

The job of an Assessor at Existence INC, as we all know, is to ensure an intermediate soul is ready to leave their old life behind and begin their new assignment on Earth. I knew Theodore Gibbs was not ready to leave his old life behind the second his soul walked into my office. 

I first learned of Theodore Gibbs in the monthly Revitalization Department meeting just a few days prior to formally meeting him. The agenda was not out of the ordinary; Assessors gave briefings on their cases and new cases were assigned by my boss, Mr. Michels. 

After the Novice Soul cases were assigned, I sensed a mood shift in the room. The last agenda item only came up every few months and the groans from my coworkers implied even that was too often: old souls who needed Assessors on their cases. All of the veteran Assessors grew silent while all of the newbie’s, like myself, perked up at the opportunity to prove themselves. 

I volunteered for a few of the Old Soul cases, to no avail, until the last name was read. 

“Intermediate Soul No. 7593,” Mr. Michels announced. Heads lowered and sporadic coughs filled the awkward silence in the room. “His Earth Name was Theodore Gibbs. His last time on Earth was over 20 Earth Years ago. Any takers?”

It became clear to me while looking around the room that none of my coworkers were willing to step up to the plate, and probably for good reason. A 20 year gap between assignments was unheard of. This was the most difficult challenge in the entire department. Even the best of the best didn’t want to take Gibbs on. 

Which is exactly why I raised my hand to volunteer myself. 

The veterans and higher ups gave me variations of smug looks, while newer Assessors looked shocked. I wasn’t sure which one made me feel more on edge. Nevertheless, Mr. Michels agreed and pushed the two rather thin files toward my end of the table. With that, the meeting was over.

There was only one standard document and a few pages of notes previous Assessors took in the first file. The document told me the basics of his first and only assignment: 

Intermediate Soul No. 7593 (need to redo the dates, need to add in his life timeline)

Earth Name (EN): Theodore Gibbs

First Day On Earth: April 8th, 1975

Last Day On Earth: August 3rd, 1998

Cause of Death: terminal illness

People Close to Him at Time of Death: parents, sister, Penny (best friend)

The previous Assessor reported that he didn’t make any progress, would not compromise, and he was impossible to work with. These notes, combined with the lack of information, left me feeling unprepared, to say the least. It really didn’t help when Mr. Michels popped his head in to let me know that Theodore Gibbs was in the lobby waiting for his meeting with me. Before I could answer, Mr. Michels moved aside and the door opened wider so I could also see Theodore Gibbs standing just behind him. 

I stood and adjusted my blazer, more so out of nervous anticipation than for concern of professional attire. My new client walked through the door and stood in front of my desk. Mr. Michels closed the door on his way out without saying a word.   

Theodore Gibbs was wearing baggy clothing that first meeting. He looked older than I imagined he would, and he had an odd melancholy to him. Neither of us said anything, but then I extended my hand and introduced myself.

“Francine,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Theo.”

We both took our seats, and I shuffled through some papers on my desk while trying to think of something to say. I eventually decided that asking him how his day was going was probably a safe bet, but regretted that decision when he glared at me in response. Small talk was out of the question, so I got down to business.

“So, your Earth Name was Theodore,” I began. “But you would prefer Theo, right?”

He nodded. 

I asked him more questions about his past life on Earth. What was your family like? What did you do for a living? Who were your friends? All of the standard questions we ask souls to determine how attached they are to their old assignment. If they answer the questions with a hint of sadness, they aren’t ready for another assignment and probably need some time to move on. If they answer happily, they are content with the life they just lived and are ready for another one. 

These are the situations Assessors are prepared for, these types of answers. No one prepares you for unanswered questions and what those imply.

I decided to try a different angle. He has had several new lives assigned to him since his last assignment, but they have all expired and gone to other souls. The most recent one was sitting on my desk and I fortunately had the chance to read through it before he came into the office. This was one of the best assignments I’ve ever read, so I decided to tell him as much, but then he finally spoke.

“I want to go back.”

I recoiled at these words. This was against the number one rule: a soul cannot return to the same life once that assignment has been completed. Everyone knows that, not only Assessors. 

“That’s impossible,” I whispered. “That will throw off everything.”

Theo shrugged and slumped further into his chair. 

“You’ve been gone some twenty years, Theo. Don’t you think people will find it a bit odd that you’ve suddenly returned?”

I began to list all of the horrible repercussions that could occur if he returned as Theodore Gibbs, namely the emotional turmoil it would cause people he loved. 

But then I stopped. Everyone else said he was difficult to work with, that he was impossible to work with. I wondered whether people were trying to check off boxes on their Assessor to do list, or if they actually attempted to work with Theo. 

“Why do you want to go back?” I asked him.

“I died young,” he met my gaze. “I never had the chance to see the things I wanted to see, do what I wanted to do, and be who I thought I could be. And all because some guy upstairs decided it was so.” (I knew the guy he was talking about, he works a few floors above me in Design.)

A new sense of optimism flooded through me and I couldn’t hold back my excitement. 

“This is your second chance! You get to do all of that again, and better—!”

“None of that matters if she’s not there,” he said. 

My brows furrowed and I dropped my arms to my sides. He only stared back at me, leaving me to wonder who he might be talking about. I peered down at his file and remembered a name from earlier. 

Penny. 

It was all there in his file and I remembered the highlights. His childhood best friend. She lived down the street from him. They did everything together. They were the best of friends and he loved her. He died just a couple years after they finished college. She had big, beautiful eyes and a lovely smile. She was so sad the day of his funeral, and for months afterward. 

“She called you Teddy,” I said. 

“She was the only one that did,” he whispered, and then he started to raise his voice. “She was my everything. Everything.” He paused for a moment.

“I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with her,” he whispered.

“No, you weren’t,” I said.

The words slipped out before I could stop them. Theo looked at me in disbelief, but he didn’t say anything. 

“I’m sorry, but you’re wrong,” I shook my head and began to explain. “You weren’t supposed to make it. She was supposed to keep going. I’m sorry, but… you weren’t.”

Theo remained silent, so I decided to fill him in as best as I could after only skimming his file. I couldn’t believe no other Assessor had told him any of this. I told him that yes, they truly loved each other, but Penny was meant to live another life after Theo passed. 

“Wait, wait, wait,” Theo cut me off. “What are you talking about? How do you know all of this?”

“I have her file from Recollection,” I explained simply. “I know what her life has been like up to the current moment.”

I couldn’t quite interpret the expression on his face after I said that. Determined, optimistic, fearful? He looked as though I just gave him the only glimpse of hope he’s had in two decades, and that terrified him, but the fear of leaving with unanswered questions terrified him even more. 

“Show me,” he said. 

“The Recollection office has replicas of everything that belongs to every soul, even their memories,” I explained to Theo on the walk over. “It has two sides. One is for pending souls and one is for completed souls. Pending souls only have memories, not artifacts like completed souls.”

Theo nodded. “Am I allowed to see what you’re about to show me?”

“I’m not sure, actually. I’ve never been told not to show souls these archives.”

Theo smiled, but didn’t meet my gaze. I took that as a win nonetheless. 

“It’s rather eerie in here, no?” Theo noted.

“Admittedly, I try not to come in here often.” I opened the door and we walked into the Completed Souls side of the department. It was a big room with floor to ceiling filing cabinets that created hallways so narrow, Theo was forced to walk behind me as we looked for Penny’s name. We eventually found it, so I hooked up the files to the screen on the wall in front of us so we could watch the memories together. 

I asked if he was ready before I pressed play, he told me he had been ready for a long time to see his Penny again. 

The first memory was from when they were children, playing in the front yard of one of their homes. Young Theo gave her the wristband he was wearing, and Penny wore it with pride. The next few memories were from middle school and high school. Some friendships ebb and flow during these awkward years, but not theirs. They seemed as close as ever right through the end of their senior year and the summer after when they wrote each other letters before they left for school. Penny smiled so wide the first time she saw him after that first semester of college, they both looked so different from only 6 months before. 

Their friendship stayed strong throughout four years of going to different colleges. Summers spent abroad, other relationships, other friendships. We watched as Theo met her first boyfriend, and I saw him cringe out of the corner of my eye, but he smiled again when he saw her talking with friends and family. 

He watched intently as she answered a phone call from her mother. Her face fell and the rest of the memory played out in slow motion. He watched her sob and scream his name into the phone. She fell to the ground and threw her phone across the room. Then the screen went black. 

The memories came back seconds later, only very hazy. The first memory is at Theo’s funeral, and Theo has to look away for a moment. When he looks back, the memories are still fuzzy and out of focus. So much so that we can’t make out what we are seeing.

“What’s happening?” Theo asked, his voice low like a whisper. 

“This happens sometimes,” I said. “Penny blocked this pain out of her mind, it was too much for her to handle. She knows there are memories there, but she hasn’t unlocked them.” I told him we can only see what she remembers, what she chooses to remember. 

Eventually the memories come back in full color and clarity. Penny finished grad school. She fell in love again and moved in with her husband. They have children together. She has a good job, great friends, and her family is doing well. She seems to be happy. She has told her husband and oldest child all about Theo. She told them how much he loved him and how much he meant to her, how much he still means to her. 

“I miss my Teddy,” she said often. 

The memories stop during dinner while she’s telling her family a story about Theo from years earlier. Her husband squeezes her hand every time she talks about Theo and he did so in this memory. 

I glanced up at Theo and tears filled his eyes. He walked toward the screen playing the memories and touched her hand. She’s still wearing the wristband. I thought I heard him whisper ‘I wish I could go back,’ but I’m not sure. 

“When is she done on Earth?” 

“Not for another decade or so,” I told him. 

He walked back to me, muttered thank you, and left without another word. I didn’t try to stop him, I didn’t try to finish my report. I just turned off the monitor and walked back to my office to prepare for my next case. 

Weeks and months have gone by since this day without any sign of Theodore Gibbs. I truly believed showing him her life now, how happy she is and how she’s still keeping his memory alive, would have provided closure. Evidently, my judgement was poor on this case, and I worry that I failed him. 

Overall, I don’t think Intermediate Soul No. 7593 is ever going to want to go on another assignment. He has spent his entire existence so far as Theodore Gibbs, the man who loves another soul named Penny. He does not know anything else and he does not want to. He will wait the rest of eternity for her if he has to. We would all be fools to believe otherwise. 

Case File: Intermediate Soul No. 8099

Intermediate Assessor Report Completed By: Francine

At the beginning of my assessment of Soul 8099, she was more than willing to take on another assignment. She seemed content with how her first assignment had gone. She fell in love, had children, traveled the world, and overall got everything she wanted out of that life. She was still sad that she left before her husband and she missed her children immensely. I was just about to recommend she start her new assignment in one Earth Month when I heard a commotion outside of my office. 

“You can’t go in there!” Mr. Michels yelled.

“I need to talk to Francine!” The voice argued.  

At that, my office door burst open. I saw an out of breath Mr. Michels, red in the face from anger or exhaustion, I couldn’t tell. In front of him was a soul I never thought I’d see again: Theodore Gibbs. He walked toward me, finger pointed between my eyes.

“You. You said she would be here today. Where is she?” He asked. He raised his voice to ask again before I could answer. 

“Teddy?” A small voice asked. I turned to the soul who was still sitting at the chair across from me. 

“Penny,” The air left Theo’s lungs and he nearly collapsed in front of me. He stared at her with tears in his eyes, but all the melancholy that was there a decade ago was gone. He walked over to her, dropped to his knees, and kissed her hands as she wept. 

“I’ve missed you so much,” they whispered to each other. Theo pulls her up and they embrace each other tightly to make up for all the lost time. 

“I saw it, I saw all of it,” Theo told her and she smiled. “I saw your parents grow old and your kids grow up. They both look so much like you, Penny.”

“I told them all about you, Teddy. Everyone wished they could have met you.”

Theo nodded and hung his head low as he held in a sob. “I wish I could have. I wanted to go back.”

I turned my head away so I wouldn’t have to meet his gaze, although I’m pretty sure they both have forgotten all about me. 

“I’m just happy to see you now,” Penny touched his face. 

The look they gave each other was all the confirmation I needed: neither one of them was going to go on another assignment. They weren’t going to risk being apart ever again. Theo looked at me hopefully, and I nodded. 

I walked them to the back of the building, to the Afterlife Gate, and watched as they walked through together, hand-in-hand. 

Overall, I think this was the best decision for both Intermediate Soul No. 8099 and Intermediate Soul No. 7593. May they both rest peacefully. 

— 

I put both files away when I finished my reports, but there was one loose end I couldn’t let be. I gathered my things, ready to take off for the day, but I stopped by Recollection on my way out. I searched through the system until I found the name I was looking for: Justin, Penny’s husband. 

His Last Day on Earth is only a few Earth Years away. I checked his next assignment, and it looks like another long one. I put my name down as the Assessor for his current assignment and his next one. 

I made a silent vow to Theo and Penny to give them as much time together as I can.

October 29, 2021 22:53

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2 comments

Harken Void
14:35 Nov 04, 2021

Hey Marlee! Very cool premise, I loved it. I think you've stumbled upon a whole mine of ideas with this one and could expand upon it into a novella or a novel, should you decide to do so. The story was sweet, a bit sad, and very human. You've got clean clear writting and good pacing. What I did notice was that you kept jumping from past tense to present - watch out for that. One other thing was a few awkward sentences; Like you start a sentence with one idea of what to say and end it with a different idea, not connecting the two in the middl...

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