As the mannequin holds me to the ground, blood pours out of my chest through my shirt. I never thought I’d be here. As I lay helpless on the floor, I think about my life. My misery. My anger.
I think back to the night my life changed forever. I was fourteen years old at the time. My mother left me when I was four years old, so as long as I could remember it was just me and my dad. Ever since I was born, my dad strived to give me the best life possible. To him, this just meant getting rich. He thought the most logical way to do this would be to invent something. Every day I returned home from school, my father had decided that he was “onto something” but by the next day he had abandoned the idea.
Some of his ideas like a mechanical dish sponge were practical but other things like disposable rain boots were completely ridiculous and stupid. When I was fourteen years old, my dad came up with an idea that he thought he could actually sell. His idea was a self-charging cell phone and I personally thought anybody would benefit from that. He began pitching his idea to many companies. One of the employees named Daniel Ozark from a company called TechToday was developing a similar product and thought my father was trying to sabotage this.
Two nights after my father’s pitch, Ozark knocked on my father’s apartment door claiming that he had a deal to propose about my father’s product and needed to talk to him about it in the hall. My father and I were overjoyed that TechToday was actually interested in my father’s product. I was about to go out into the hallway to see why the conversation was taking so long, but just as I approached the door I heard a gunshot and saw blood beginning to poor through the crack under the door. I instantly fell to the floor sobbing. Amidst sobbing I heard Ozark’s footsteps as he sprinted away from the scene of the crime. I couldn’t believe it. Daniel Ozark, a seemingly innocent man, had stolen my father’s entire fortune and killed him.
It’s Ozark’s fault that I’m going to be killed by a mannequin. I never would’ve resorted to crime if it hadn’t been for my father’s death. But I don’t have time to think about this now. I’m losing blood rapidly and I can feel the life draining out of me. The long elegant diamonds around the mannequin’s neck have punctured deep wounds in my skin allowing for blood to pour out. I try to wiggle my way out from under the mannequin but I feel more stabs from the diamonds pin me down to the ground so all I can do is lie helplessly and hope that I am taken out of my misery.
I consider calling out for help but if I’m caught robbing the largest jeweler in New York City I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison and odds are it’s too late for me at this point. Then suddenly I feel I sharp stabbing in my chest. I gasp for air and then my vision goes black and I fall completely lifeless.
I groggily open my eyes to find myself lying in a warm, neatly made bed, in a small room that looks much like a hotel. I sit up to examine my wounds on my chest from the mannequin but find them to be completely healed. The skin is now shiny and smooth rather than rough and torn apart. I sit up and examine my surroundings. There is a night table on either side of my bed and each of them are decorated with dazzling and elegant bouquets of flowers. On the walls there are gilded picture frames which have exquisite photos of underwater seascapes and of grand looking waterfalls. There is a large television on the wall directly across from the bed and underneath is a gorgeous honey colored bureau. On top of the bureau there is a wicker basket full of candies, fruits and are two leather backed books. I stand up and bring the basket to my bed. I flop down onto the bed and toss the books out of the basket and begin munching on the sweet delicacies. I may not know where I am but I would never turn down free food.
When my father was shot I was furious that he never gave me the life and the wealth he promised me and so I resorted to crime. It served me well. I had a few close calls but I was never caught and from every casino, bank and jeweler I ever robbed I finally had the life my father meant for me.
All of a sudden I feel a surge of rage. Why didn’t my father give me a better life? Why did my mother leave me? Why at the age of 38 do I still live alone? I’m too angry to eat any more candies. I grab the first book that I had tossed aside and thrust myself into a pillow. I can feel my hands shaking. I don’t know where I am, or why I’m here. How come I, Travis Hunter, a criminal, am being granted free food? If I don’t remember finishing the robbery I must have been caught! How did I not see this before? I’m trapped! In an attempt to calm myself, I once again pick up the book. I think the title The Afterlife for Dummies sounds like a great novel and so I open the book and continue reading.
After flipping through introductions and copyrights I finally reach chapter one. I begin to read: If you are reading this you have reached the land of the dead. Welcome. Please report to the front desk immediately to discuss your housing-Thank You! Me? Dead? This can’t be! I am very much living and breathing. Or am I? Being in the land of the dead simultaneously makes all the sense in the world and no sense at all.
Of course, just waking up in a completely new location with no wounds does partially justify the fact that I may be in the land of the dead. That being said, there’s no such thing as the afterlife- there just isn’t. If there really was an afterlife my father would’ve come back to Earth. To me. But he didn’t. This all could just be a big prank, so I decide against going down to the front desk. Instead, I turn on the TV, but the TV doesn’t work. I keep pressing buttons but the only thing that shows up is a flashing notification that says, “Please report to the front desk!” So I do. I stand up and walk downstairs to where I assume the desk is. I can’t believe that I had actually given in. I didn’t want to believe that I was in the afterlife. I couldn’t be dead. There was more I needed to do. I needed to finish robbing the jeweler, to find love. But deep down inside it seemed to be the only logical explanation.
“Here you go. Fill these out and bring them back when you are down,” says the receptionist standing at the front desk as she slams a pile of forms as thick as a dictionary onto the desk. I look at her wide eyed. Does she really expect me to do all of this?!
“Come on, it’s really not that much-now go!” I pick up the stack, using my forearms to support all of the weight. The receptionist was right. It’s really not that much. The first page looks like this:
Welcome to the Afterlife!
You, Travis Hunter, died of blood loss yesterday while robbing a jeweler. We want to make your stay in the afterlife, which will last for the rest of eternity, as comfortable as possible. Therefore, you may pick one of the following three choices for the rest of eternity:
Choice Number One:
Heaven or Hell
This is the standard choice. Good people will go to Heaven and not so good people will go to Hell. We will inform you if you belong in Heaven or Hell before you make your choice. Please understand that very few people actually go to Hell (criminals,serial killers, etc.) and even if you do we will still try to provide an experience appropriate to your behavior on Earth.
Choice Number Two:
Community Service on Earth
Since you are now dead you are technically a ghost and may return to Earth invisibly to help make a positive impact. This choice is our most advised. Here in the afterlife we like to do everything we can to help our neighbors on Earth.
Choice Number Three:
This is a very ill advised choice. Choosing to haunt humans can put you in immense danger and possibly throw off or ruin the rest of your time in the afterlife–which is eternity.
Please contemplate your options and pick a path.
For Choice number 1, go to page 1; for choice number 2, go to page 47; and for choice number 3, go to page 113.
I know what I’ll do. If I really am dead I’ll make the best of it, and that means making it worse for everyone else. Choice number three had my name written all over it. I could destroy the life of Daniel Ozark and his family. I could finish robbing the jewelry store I died robbing. I will finish that robbery. I must–I will destroy the lives of everyone who destroyed mine.
“Sir–you did read this, choice three is a very ill advised choice,” says the receptionist after I turn in my forms.
“I’ve made my decision, and it is final!” I shout, really losing my cool.
“All right sir,” says the receptionist, shaking her head. “Here are the rest of the forms and information you’ll need.” She says, placing a packet down on the desk.
“Thanks,” I say sarcastically, and walk away with the forms. They read:
If you are reading this you have chosen to go back to earth to haunt and complete your “unfinished business.” Please understand that this is a very dangerous choice and may result in many consequences.
You will be transported back to Earth 36 hours from now. Before you leave please fill out the following form:
Name____________ Date of Death________________
Date of Transport____________
Where on Earth would you like to be transported?_____________
I understand that I will be invisible to all humans and that choice #3 is a very dangerous choice.
_______________________(your signature) Thank you! Please enjoy your stay in the afterlife!
After I finish the form I bring it to the receptionist’s desk.
“New York City, huh?” says the receptionist, her eyebrows jumping up and down.
“Oh, yeah,” I respond.
“Alright–we’ll call for you in 36 hours.”
“Thanks,” I say and walk back up to my room.
I’m still asleep when I hear a booming voice in my room calling, “Travis Hunter! Our teleportation to Earth leaves in 35 minutes. Please report to the front desk immediately.”
I look around, baffled, trying to see where the voice is coming from but I don’t see anyone so I decided there must be some hidden speaker. I hurriedly freshen up and head down to the desk for my transport.
“Hello, Travis,” says a receptionist.
“Please step into this capsule,” she says, motioning towards a small cabinet next to her desk. I raise my eyebrows at her questioningly. Does she really expect me to fit into that cabinet?
“Go on,” she says.
So I do, and it really isn’t that small. Just as I’m about to open my mouth to ask what she’s going to do I begin to feel myself swirling around in all sorts of crazy loops like a sock in the washing machine. As I begin to feel nauseous, the swirling stops and the capsule opens. I step out to find myself on a dirty New York City amidst many tourists and vendors. I start pacing down the street, noticing how dirty the city has become–so crowded and full of shouting people.
A large pack of students on a trip begin walking down the block straight towards me–their stares are dark and devious. They’re really out to get me. I run as fast as I can but they’re still tailing me. Just as they’re about to slam into me I shut my eyes, hoping it will somehow help reduce the pain I’ll feel–but then no pain comes. The pack of students seems to walk straight through me.
Before I knew what a terrible and vile man Daniel Ozark was I was so excited for my father’s pitch with TechToday. Before his pitch he told me all about the company and its employees–including Daniel Ozark. I was able to salvage very few of my father’s belongings but I was able to save an information packet from the convention where he pitched his cell phone to TechToday. The packet included the personal information of many participants in the convention. Including Ozark. In the years following my father’s death I constantly studied the packet, memorizing the addresses and phone numbers of Ozark and his family. This information was all I needed to begin my haunting.
I walk into the first apartment building on the street, bolt up to the front desk, pick up the phone and dial Ozark’s number.
“Hello?” He answers in a hoarse voice.
“Daniel Ozark!” I shout with rage. “I’m coming for you!”
“Hello?” he says again with no emotion. I continue shouting but he can’t hear me and he hangs up. I pick up a pot of plants on the desk and smash it on the floor. I don’t understand–why can’t he hear me? And then it dawns on me: I was dead. I couldn’t be seen, heard, or felt. I felt so much animosity towards Ozark, towards the afterlife, but mostly myself. I felt so senseless and naive. And now I’m stuck attempting to haunt people for the rest of eternity! If I can’t be seen, heard, or felt the only basic function I can perform and have it noticed is to pick up items, and give the illusion that they’re floating. I’m so angry. There’s only one thing left to do–so I walk up to Daniel Ozarks apartment.
When I enter Ozark’s apartment he is sitting on his couch smoking a cigar and watching TV. I slam the door and he looks up in alarm.
“Who’s there?” He shouts with panic. “I know you’re in here! Show yourself!”
While Daniel continues shouting into space, I creep into the kitchen and grab two butcher’s knives. I hold them up high to create the illusion that they are flying through the air.
I slowly walk into the living room where Daniel is panicking and begin to approach him with the knives. He cries out so terrified I feel I have already succeeded. He pulls out his phone to call 911. His hands are so shaky he can hardly hold it. I knock the phone out of his hand and throw it out a window across the room and watch as it falls 13 stories and smashes on top of a garbage truck. I throw the first butcher knife across the room so it lands right in the middle of a photo of Daniel hanging on the wall. I expect him to scream out in terror, but rather he just stands in the middle of the room petrified. It’s the perfect opportunity for me–so I strike. I throw the second butcher knife straight into Ozark’s chest, piercing his heart.
I watch in elation as Ozark begins losing blood. He breathes so heavily–gasping for all the air he can get, and then one second he’s done. He stops breathing. I did it. I killed Daniel Ozark.
I sit down on Ozark’s couch to review what I’ve just done. I’ve really done it. All for my father. I am so proud and I just sit back on the couch to relax. Just as I am dozing off to sleep I feel a strong burst of air come from above and begin sucking me up like a vacuum machine. I fight and flail to stay on the couch but I can’t control it. I am thrown in crazy loops and turns and when it stops I am back in the hotel where my afterlife experience began. I storm up to the desk–enraged.
“Excuse me!” I shout. “Why on Earth am I here?”
“Please follow me, sir,” the receptionist responds.
“No! I will not follow you until you tell me why I am here!” I respond, still yelling.
“Sir, your recent actions on Earth have resulted in a dangerous and severe phenomenon and we need you to help reverse your actions. Now please come with me.”
“No!” I yell back. Before I can continue protesting two guards walk in and drag me away from the desk. They drag me down a long corridor that smells like mildew and into a small dark enclosed room with a table and chairs on each side. The men thrust me into a chair and chain me to it. The taller of the two men exits and the other stays with me. Before long, a tall, intense looking woman wearing a navy blue blazer enters and sits in the chair across from me and motions for the other guard to leave. The guard exits and now I am alone with this mysterious looking woman.
“You, Travis Hunter, murdered a Mr. Daniel Ozark this morning on Earth,” says the woman. I nod and she continues talking. “Every time a dead person or ghost murders a living human, there is a different and dangerous outcome. And I fear that you have created something we may never be able to undo.”
“What do you mean?” I respond, now very nervous.
“Travis, when you died, you reached the afterlife and were given 3 choices–correct?”
“It seems that when you killed Mr. Ozark you disturbed this balance. Ever since your murder, when people die they just rest silently in their coffins.”
“So what?” I respond.
“So what?!” She exclaims, obviously beginning to lose patience. “Mr. Hunter, you do realize that you’ve just destroyed the afterlife forever!”
“Well, why is this even a choice if it’s so dangerous?!” I respond.
“You see, when setting up choices for the afterlife, an angel got to make two decisions and a demon got to make two decisions. The angel chose Heaven and community service and the demon chose Hell and haunting. Understand?”
I nod. “But I still don’t understand why you need me! What am I supposed to do?” I shout.
“We have two options as to how to approach this. We can (a) send you directly to sector 13 of Hell which is the most violent and tortuous sector and allow my team and I to try to figure this out. Or you may (b) go back to earth for community service, which may help balance out the bad and evil you recently put into the world and resolve this issue. And if you do a good amount of community service we may be able to let you into Heaven. What is your pick?”
I contemplate it for a minute and then respond. “B.”
“That is your final decision?” asks the woman. I nod.
“We’ll give you your community service assignment tomorrow morning at 7:00 am sharp and we will send you to Earth directly afterwards. Understand?”
“Please return to the room where you slept the day you died. I will see you at the desk tomorrow at 7. Goodbye, Mr. Hunter.”
I arrive back in New York at 7:45 with a community service assignment that reads:
Temporary Community Service Assignment:
You will be stationed in a NYC subway station and your job will be to (a) pick up any litter and throw it away and (b) help return and find stolen items. There will be serious consequences if you disobey this. Thank You for your service and devotion to the afterlife.
Head of Afterlife Operations
I can’t believe it. Community service in a subway! Not only is it boring, it’s vile. But I have to do it–to get into Heaven. I can’t be doomed in Hell forever! I can’t be tortured for the rest of eternity!
Instead of walking to the nearest subway station, I walk five blocks further in order to reach a cleaner one. I sit down on a bench and just watch as people walk by and talk and yell. I find it astounding how much trash people drop and how random the stuff is. One guy drops his license and now I have to chase him through the station to slip it back into his pocket. I pick up so much gross trash, from cigarette butts to food rinds and at the end of the day my hands are completely covered in dirt. I am not coming back to this station tomorrow. It is an absolute waste of time. Besides I bet I’ve already done enough community service to fit into Heaven. I’ll tend to some of my unfinished business instead.
At 11:30 pm I arrive at the jeweler. I pick the lock and sneak inside with a sack that I hope to fill with diamonds. When I enter, I walk on the opposite side of the store than I did on my first attempted robbery, just to ensure I don’t trip over the mannequin again. I take out a mallet and begin smashing cases and pulling out pounds of jewelry and throwing it in my sack. I take a small elevator down to a large vault in the basement. The vault is beautiful–full of beautiful diamond sculptures. I pick one up to admire it. It’s carved in the shape of a heart and is absolutely stunning.
I can’t believe it. I’ve actually done it. I’ve robbed the jeweler. I have my revenge! I start running on my way out, out of pure joy, but then I trip over a piece of shattered glass, fall backwards, and drop the diamond sculpture. It lands on my foot, holding it down to the ground–disabling me from standing up.
I can’t believe myself. I’ve done it again. I’m stuck. I pull and yank my foot as much as I can but it’s just stuck. I’m not in pain; I just can’t move. But then it strikes me! If I’m a ghost, I can’t feel pain, I can’t die again–so I reach as far as I can and grab my mallet. I heave the mallet back and smash it against my ankle, watching as that gorgeous diamond sculpture shatters into tiny bits and pieces. But I’m free! I watch in awe as the scratches the glass had cut in my skin seal up. I jump up, run back to the vault, grab another sculpture, and race out of the jeweler as fast as I can with my sack of riches. I’m so proud! I’d done it! My father would be so proud. But then a scary thought hits my head.
What will I do now? I’m dead, what’s the point of money anymore? Where will I keep the riches? I have nowhere to live.
I don’t know what I should do with all the riches. They’re worth so much but I have nowhere to hide them. For the moment I decide to take the riches back with me to my old apartment building and hide them in the secret cabinet where my father used to store his inventions. When I get back to my apartment, it’s still completely the same. I look back through old photos and my bedroom. Practically everything I own was stolen. I had never questioned this. Until now. I just completed a masterful heist and yet all the riches seem to be causing more trouble for me than helping me. Maybe if I hadn’t been a criminal I might’ve had a family or might’ve been able to lead a normal life. I probably wouldn’t even be dead. I can’t believe myself. I should’ve seen this before. I sit down on my couch and turn on the TV. Just then I once again feel the vacuum sensation. I restrain as much as I can but once again it just sucks me up and drops me back in the afterlife hotel.
“Travis Hunter!” I hear a voice scream as the woman in the blue blazer enters the lobby. I look up at her questioningly.
“Why do you think you are here?” She asks with malice in her eyes.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” I respond, my voice very nervous and unsteady.
“Follow me, Travis,” she says in a suddenly calm voice. I begin following her and she leads me back to the room where she had explained the phenomenon I had created.
“Sit down,” she says–in a very intense voice. I obey. She chains me to the chair and sits across from me on the other side of the table.
“You, Travis Hunter, have directly disobeyed my instructions and you have jeopardized the function of the afterlife forever!” She shouts. She stands up and opens the door and a middle aged man being held by two guards staggers in. The man reaches towards me and I towards him. I know this man. I love this man. This man is my father. I hadn’t seen him in so long. I had forgotten what happiness felt like. The wonderful sensation of happiness makes me I feel like I’m flying. But then in a matter of seconds it’s taken away from me.
“Not only did you disappoint me,” says the woman, “you let down your father. You really think your father, who gave everything for you, wanted you to become a criminal?”
I don’t know what she’s talking about. My father didn’t give me anything. Everything he promised me he lost.
“No. Your father didn’t want you to become a criminal,” she continues. “You robbed a jeweler when you were supposed to be doing community service! Your father belongs in Heaven where there is no place for you. We are moving you to sector 13 of Hell.”
I can’t believe it. I let my head fall to the table in distress. I’d destroyed my life. Forever.
“Effective immediately,” she says. She claps her hands twice and two guards enter. They each pick me up by one arm and begin dragging me away. I flail and fight but they’re too strong for me. I beg for mercy. I just want forgiveness, and my father. I’d waited so long to see him. But it’s too late. The guards drag me out of the room and just before I’m pushed through the dark portal to Hell I get one final glimpse of my father’s tears.