Lisa awoke to a soft thudding coming from the kitchen. Last night it had been the spare bedroom door squeaking open; the night before, the TV turning on in the middle of the night.
Her heart pounded against her ribs in rapid imitation of the thumps from the other room. Saying she would dispose of the belongings from the deceased previous tenant had been well worth the reduced rent. This, most certainly, was not. She curled into a ball under the covers and prayed for dawn.
Charlie kicked the cabinet door in frustration. His foot passed right through it. He sighed and started over, one finger on the corner. The door inched open slightly before his finger melted through the wood and it thudded shut again. The whiskey bottle remained unreachable. Every night, more of his things were gone. It wasn’t right that he couldn’t enjoy the few favorites left.
What he really wanted was to see what had become of his home office, but revisiting the scene of his heart attack still felt too weird. He stumped out to the living room instead. The TV remote had proved almost as difficult as the cabinet but he’d managed to conquer it for the first time two nights ago. Charlie picked it up and punched at the power button. Even in life his fingers had been fat and imprecise on the little controls, and he settled in for a long battle.
After a few minutes, the screen beeped twice and flickered to life. His grin faded when he realized the channel was set to Lifetime. He punched the channel button repeatedly to no effect. Blast.
Resigned to 3:00 am programming, Charlie lowered the oxymoron of his insubstantial bulk onto the floral sofa while Michael Landon and his big hair calmed a distressed woman on an old episode of Highway to Heaven. Charlie wondered again what heaven was going to be like. Hopefully, he’d know soon. Who would have thought that heaven’s bureaucracy would prove to be as inefficient as New Jersey’s?
He pulled the certificate out of his pocket and examined it again. “Admit One” it read, in ornate script. Pearly gates were embossed on the letterhead in gold. “Bring this certificate with you when summoned.” Printed in small letters at the bottom, it said: “Loss of this certificate will require a report submitted to the Bureau of Replacement Certificates. Please expect one to two months for processing.”
His admission delay was supposed to be brief, but it had already been a week. Some of the newly dead had chosen to wait in line like kids at a rock concert, some had been drawn to graveyards to be near loved ones they would see soon, and some had gone home. Charlie had gone home, but it wasn’t home anymore. A woman’s belongings were everywhere and most everything he’d owned had been thrown out like junk.
He’d never seen the woman who lived here now. He hadn’t seen anyone since coming back. It was like a weird alternate universe where there were things, but not people. Cars moved along the streets, doors opened and closed, but no one was there. It was creepy. Fortunately, he seemed to only be awake at night. He looked at the clock over the TV and wished dawn would hurry.
When the TV show ended and an infomercial for a food processor began at nearly twice the volume, Lisa snapped. Shaking with fear and furious at being so afraid, she threw the covers off and got up.
The bedroom door flew open with a bang that made Charlie jump. The certificate fell from his hands and floated to the floor, landing on the remote by his feet. Footsteps pounded toward him and he cringed into the sofa.
“That’s it,” a woman yelled. She would have been more intimidating if her voice hadn’t squeaked. “Get out!” The remote lifted from the floor into the air in ghostly fashion, his certificate levitating with it. The television abruptly switched off. “Get out!”
Creepy, Charlie thought again, watching the remote waggling in the air. He waited for her to put it down so he could reclaim his certificate, but it floated in a slow circle as if she was searching for someone to clobber with it. He tugged at a corner of the paper when it passed near him but it was impossible to pull loose. As it was one of the few things solid in his world, he suspected she didn’t even see it. He’d just have to wait her out.
A vibration buzzed against Charlie’s leg through his pants pocket. He reached in and pulled out the little pager to see blinking red lights spinning around the perimeter. He gasped as the apartment began to fade from view. The certificate was still firmly in her grip.
“No,” he wailed, “not yet!” but it was too late. His number was up.
Liz Colter lives in a rural area of the Rocky Mountains and spends her free time with her husband, dogs, horses and writing (according to her husband, not usually in that order of priority). She has been writing speculative fiction for a decade and reading it for a lifetime.