“This isn’t a dream?” Kyle thought to himself. “If I’m not dreaming, then what the hell is this?”
Kyle was a man who gave orders, not one who demurely received and followed them. His supreme self-confidence often teetered into arrogance, but these traits served him well as he escaped from a dysfunctional childhood, earned Valedictorian status in high school, sailed though college, and eventually started his own business, achieving success he only dreamed about when he hid in the closet from his father’s drunken violent rages.
He prided himself as a person who never let obstacles prevent him from reaching his goals, yet here he was, taking orders from a complete stranger. For the first time in a very long time, he not only felt subservient and impotent, but also felt the stirrings of something he hadn’t felt since he was the target of his father’s wrath: fear.
He shuffled across the black and white checkered corridor, pulled the high-backed chair away from the table and quietly sat down.
“If this isn’t a dream, than what is this place and what am I doing here?”
The young woman who sat across the desk (he could have sworn a middle-aged man was seated there for the previous occupant of this chair) smiled kindly and said “In due time, Mr. Callahan.”
“Please call me Kyle,” he responded, transitioning into schmooze mode.
“Alright Kyle, thank you. My name is Sarah, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you can turn the charm button back into the off position. It isn’t necessary.”
“What makes you think I’m being anything but genuine?”
“Please,” Sarah said. “I know you aren’t a bad guy, but I also know you know how to work a room. You wouldn’t have achieved your success without that skill, but it won’t do you any good here.”
Kyle wondered how in the world Sarah knew so much about him, but tried to not let that throw him off his game.
“Fair enough. Am I going to find out what here is any time soon?”
“Soon enough,” Sarah said. “Just give me a minute or two please.”
Kyle sat back without comment as Sarah scrolled through a number of pages on her tablet. Turning around to observe his surroundings more closely, he was shocked to find to find no chairs or people on the other side of the corridor he just crossed.
“Excuse me,” he interrupted, “but what happened to everyone?”
“They’re still there,” Sarah said, not looking up as she continued to scroll through the pages. “You probably saw the last person who was here, but if you remember correctly, you couldn’t hear any of the discussion.” Kyle thought about that for a moment and realized she was correct. “They can see us but can’t hear us,” Sarah continued, “and are invisible to us. There are less distractions that way, and you can speak freely without the worry of being embarrassed or overheard. Plus it shields them from what awaits.”
Kyle turned to face forward again, and gazed at the outline of the doors behind the tables for a while before returning to look at Sarah, who continued to study the screen of her tablet and scroll through each page.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
“A balance sheet.”
“A balance sheet?”
“You aren’t familiar with the term?”
“Of course I’m familiar with the term,” Kyle spat impatiently. “It’s my business to know what they are.”
“And that is why I used it. But, it isn’t a balance sheet in the true sense of the word, in terms of dollars and cents. But conceptually, it’s an inventory of assets and liabilities.”
Sarah didn’t answer for a few seconds as she scrolled through the last two pages. She then placed the tablet on the table, and clasped her hands together on the table’s surface, as she looked directly into Kyle’s eyes.
“My life? What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“Yet it’s the truth.”
Kyle sighed, returned Sarah’s gaze for a full minute, then took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
“Listen, Sarah. Even though I think this whole thing,” he said, turning and waving his arm in a sweeping gesture to the empty space behind them, trying to keep his emotions in check, “is a charade and complete crock of shit, I’ve been polite and respectful. You tell me I’m not dreaming, but every fiber in my body screams that this can’t be real. Be that as it may, I’ve played along, but I’m not going to say another word or answer another question until I start getting some answers. What is this place? Why am I here?”
“You’re hear because you’re dead.”
Kyle thrust back into his chair as if someone jacked him up against an invisible wall. “Dead?” he finally said. “Is this some kind of fucking joke?”
“No. I’m sorry,” Sarah said calmly, letting Kyle absorb her words.
“Dead?” he said again, more quietly this time, as if he was speaking to himself. “How? When? Why?”
“You had a heart attack at your morning staff meeting. You were rushed to the Parkland emergency room, and they are in the process of trying to revive you, but it isn’t looking good.”
“What do you mean they are trying to revive me?”
Sarah picked up her tablet, tapped the screen several times, then handed it to Kyle, who saw his naked torso on an emergency room bed with and IV needle sticking in the crook of his elbow. Numerous machines were arrayed around him in a semi-circle. One in particular had a flat green line etched across its screen while a droning sound blared instead of the beep, beep, beep of a normal heartbeat and rhythm. An army of hospital personnel surrounded him. Someone was feverishly performing CPR, and stepped aside when another person said “Clear” and applied the defibrillator. Kyle’s body jerked upward, then flopped back onto the bed, like a fish out of water. This scene repeated itself before Sarah gently removed the tablet from Kyle’s trembling hands.
“This is still happening?” he asked, and Sarah nodded her head. “But I woke up only several hours ago. It feels like I’ve been here for a lot longer than that.”
“Time here is different. You can’t think of it the same way as you did in the mortal world.”
“A heart attack,” he softly mumbled. “I thought it would have been whatever is going on in my gut.”
“Well, that would have eventually gotten you if this didn’t come along. There is a nasty malignancy brewing in your intestines. You’ve neglected the symptoms for a while, and it would have eventually killed you if didn’t get it looked at soon. It wouldn’t have been pretty, either.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you asked.”
“Okay then,” Kyle said, regaining his composure as the shock settled in. “You still haven’t told me what this place is.”
“It’s a processing center.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well,” Sarah said. “You are technically dead, but as you can see, they are still trying to revive you. They haven’t made the call yet.”
“So, you have some decisions to make.”
“Yes, Kyle. Everyone has choices in the end, but those are as different as the individual, and are predicated on how they have lived their lives.”
“So this is some kind of…..interview?”
“Well, I’ve never thought of it like that, but it’s as good a way as any to describe it. Yeah, you can consider this an interview, but make sure you don’t mistake interview with negotiation. Our rules are fixed and non-negotiable.”
“Did that last guy find that out the hard way?”
“So, you were paying attention. That’s good, although I wouldn’t have expected any less from you. I’m not at liberty to share anyone else’s case, but I think it is safe to say he would have preferred more choices.”
Kyle was about to respond but thought the better of it, and just raised his eyebrows in an oh-well type of gesture. Sensing his reticence, Sarah leaned forward.
“Now that we understand one another, shall we proceed?”