“What about a rabbit?”
“Yes. Great fun. Nibbling lettuces. Sitting in the warm sun in green pastures. Lots of sex.”
“Is this a male rabbit or a female rabbit?”
“Whichever you like.”
Ernest Smith scratched his chin thoughtfully and once again adjusted his position on the rather uncomfortable chair in which he had been told to sit.
“Well a male rabbit is probably preferable. Certainly as regards the sex. A female rabbit would just be having babies all the time.”
“Splendid. Male rabbit it is, then.”
Ernest jumped. “No, no, I wasn’t agreeing to it. I was just musing.”
The figure on the other side of the desk held its pen poised in obvious disappointment.
“Ah. What a pity. I thought we had it there.” It tapped the pen a few times and shuffled its papers. Ernest wondered idly if he should enquire why they still used pen and paper.
“Perhaps something quite different? Spider?”
Ernest pulled a face. “No, I hate spiders.”
“That’s not really a logical reaction, Mr Smith. You are unlikely to continue to hate spiders if you are a spider.”
Ernest sighed. “I suppose not. Don’t really fancy it though. My wife loathed spiders too. If I ended up back in our house she might tread on me. Diana does that with spiders. Then I’d be straight back here again, wouldn’t I?”
It was not really possible to tell what expression the figure’s face might have displayed at this point as its face was merely a swirling greyness. However, there was a definite air that the last thing it wanted was to see Ernest straight back again. It tried to be brusque.
“Well, come, come now. We must decide on something. Time is pressing.”
“I thought you said Time didn’t exist here.”
“Yes, well, strictly speaking that’s the case but I am getting a strong sense of time passing nevertheless.”
Ernest shifted in his seat again.
“Are you also a grey swirling mass inside your robes or is it just your face?”
“Let’s not change the subject shall we, Mr Smith. What do you want to go back as?”
“I really can’t understand why I have to go back as something different. Why can’t I just have another crack at being a man? I promise I’ll be much better next time around.”
The figure sighed. “That wouldn’t be too difficult, would it? You made your wife’s life a misery. You were always off with other women, you never gave her any help around the house, you left her to bring up the children largely on her own, and you frittered away all the money she had inherited from her parents. I imagine she wasn’t too displeased when you died.”
“I see. So I’m being punished?”
“We prefer the term ‘downgraded’. There has to be some measure of suffering before we allow you another chance at the highest level of life. You need to see things from a different viewpoint, to gain some understanding of what it feels like to be undervalued or just simply ignored and overlooked. Living the harsh and difficult life of some lesser creature will give you that understanding. Do you see now why we are doing all this?”
“Yes I do. And I’ve made my decision. I’d like to go back as a woman.”
“Yes. You won’t let me go back as a man so I suppose a woman’s probably the next best thing. It’s sort of a lesser creature really, isn’t it? And you said I needed to see things from a different viewpoint so it seems the obvious answer to me.”
“You really haven’t learnt anything at all from your past lives, have you, Mr Smith. I don’t know how you…”
The figure went very still. It stopped tapping its pen. The grey clouds seemed to eddy for a time in a more agitated fashion. Then it raised one hand and Ernest disappeared. It started to write.
“Authorisation for transfers. Mr Ernest Smith (current subject) and Mrs Diana Smith (his widow). Reverse time frame to the start of their marriage and replay up to the present point. Ernest to become Diana and vice versa.”
Rob Butler lives in Reading in the UK. This is his second appearance in Every Day Fiction and he has also been published by Noesis, Perihelion, Lakeside Circus, Specklit and Daily Science Fiction. He particularly likes writing stories that make him laugh. If you happen to share his sense of humour you might enjoy his ebook, The Way We Used to Work.