“The whole block? Really? Tell Oxglove I want it documented. Yes. Down to the last atom.”
The shiny clouds melted away. I blinked twice and looked around. As my memory came back to me, I surveyed the area with the eagle eye of a tactical simulation. I was standing, if you could call it that, on a flat, sandy surface. There were sharp juts of crystalline crags in large crater-like formations littering the ground every couple of steps, with flames billowing from the center of each. Those crags seemed to be the largest objects in the whole place; there were no boulders, no trees, no signs of civilization. The sky was a pale pink, fading into gray. No clouds, no stars. No sun.
But there was a looming figure in front of me, on a cell phone. He was almost six feet in height. Although he was wearing an expensive suit and tie like a human, every square inch of skin that was visible was covered in dark red fur. Except for the face, which was light blue with white spots. I could clearly see a tail bobbing back and forth behind him, with a little tuft of red fur at the end. A pair of marble colored horns protruded from the top of his head.
“Oxglove? Hey, what’s up. Look, did Farmer send you the documentation? I... look, it’s all been documented. Just... I know, I know, but we’ve... okay, I’ll call you back when I get-”
He turned his head. “Oxy, I’m gonna need to get back to you on that. Just... um... no, I don’t think we’ll need that many chairs. But if you think-”
“Hey! Who are you?!”
“I have to go. Have Farmer get back to me with the documents.”
He pushed a button on the phone and snapped it shut. Then he walked over to me with a mixed look of smug superiority and impatience on his ugly face. I could tell I hated this guy.
“Finally! Now as I was saying-”
“Do you have a name?”
I didn’t like this guy’s attitude. Whatever happened to customer service? What happened to decency? What happened to America?
“Never heard of you. Did Farmer send you?”
“No... Pete did.”
“The guy at the help desk. I’d like to fill out a customer satisfaction card on him, if you have any. He got very lippy. I blame him for all the failures in my life.”
“Okay.” He just stood there impatiently, rolling his eyes. I think he was trying to destroy me with his mind or something.
“Um... you’re not moving.”
He exhaled slowly and shifted his weight. “How did you get to Limbo? You don’t look dead.”
“Limbo?” I had no idea what he was talking about. Then it hit me. “I’m in Limbo.”
“Yes. You are. And I’m Div. I rule Limbo.”
“So... can you help me? I’m supposed to find a sidekick with the coolest catchphrase that ever lived. Not the sidekick, the catchphrase. The sidekick needs to be dead, so they can’t die again. Is any of this getting through to you?” I could see him squinting like he had no idea what I was talking about.
“Look, it’s very simple. I need to get the soul of someone really powerful, so I can take it back to Earth and compete in a contest with it.”
“Oh.” He waited about thirty seconds, then pulled out his cell phone and started dialing.
This guy is worse than the last one...
“Hey! I came here for help. Don’t make me go to your boss and get you fired, because I will. I’ve done it before, at thousands of restaurants across Europe and North America.”
“Wow. I’m really scared.” He rolled his eyes once again.
“That’s it!” I yelled, fuming at the faceplate. “I’ve had enough of this tomfoolery! Send me back to St. Peter!”
“No can do, buddy.” He reached into the left pocket of his stain resistant corporate pants and extracted a nail file. “You’re still alive.”
“So?! Is that some kind of threat?! Do I need to go upside your head, Div?!”
“Let me guess. You can’t see them.”
“See who?” I jerked my head back and forth, trying to see who he could be talking about. But there was nobody there besides us.
“The souls. They all come through here after shedding their corporeal forms.”
“I’m gonna go crazy on you, robot style.” Maybe getting rough with him would yield better results. “Just take out that little phone of yours, and transfer me back to Pete.”
“This phone doesn’t have a transfer button. I can only receive calls.”
There has to be some way to get out of here...
“Well, just call him and tell him to transfer me back.”
“The system isn’t set up to do that. And you’re still alive, so you can’t leave the way the souls do.” He snorted. “You can’t even see them.”
“What souls?! What do you keep talking about?!”
He cleared his throat. “When someone sheds their corporeal form, the get sent here, and a portal into whatever afterlife they want opens up.” Gesturing to one of the crystalline formations jutting out of the ground, he continued. “If you look carefully, you’ll see the flame in the center change color. That happens when a new soul enters it. That’s the only way to leave Limbo.”
I bent over to look into the flame. Then I looked out at all the flaming craters across the desolate landscape.
“Why are there so many of them? How many afterlives are there?”
“For humans, there are many. But it varies by species.”
“Species? As in, plural?” This was a shocker.
“Yes. Limbo is like a giant switchboard. Every sentient life form that ever dies comes through here, and instinctively glides to whatever portal leads to their fate. It’s not just humans, we’ve got portals for beings spanning multiple universes.”
“But what about people who don’t believe in an afterlife?”
“Oh, they’ve been a big problem. At first they just started crowding up Limbo, but there was always plenty of room. But then there was the incident with the Repdoct.”
“What is the Repdoct?”
“The Repdoct were a race of super-intelligent keyboards. They were immortal, so never bothered thinking of what would happen after death.”
“That’s not as interesting as you led me to believe.”
“Yeah, their planet exploded.”
“That does increase the coolness factor somewhat, but I’m still not feeling it.”
“They maxed out Limbo’s storage capacity, so management decided that anyone who didn’t believe in an afterlife when they were alive gets downloaded into the system mainframe and remains in a kind of suspended animation for the rest of time. Sometimes we memory wipe them and put them in a new body, if the supply of new souls is too low.”
“That certainly answers my last question, but I’d like to redirect you to the first question I had about how I could get out of Limbo and go somewhere else in the afterlife. I need to find a cool new unstoppable sidekick with a robo-tacular action phrase.”
“I told you,” he grunted, “the only way out of Limbo is through a portal.”
“Okay, which portal leads to the afterlife with all the superheroes?”
“I have no idea. The souls just fly through here on their own; I’ve never had to direct any of them.” Flipping his cell phone open, he started pressing digits.
About twenty feet away I saw a relatively large crater. The flame was flickering, and constantly changing color. Might as well...
“Good bye, Div! Keep it real.”
“Yeah, Oxglove? It’s... no, just tell Farmer to coordinate with the caterer. Wha- how many tables do you think we’ll need?! That’s just crazy. Look, you... okay, fine, we’ll try it your way. But don’t think for a moment that-”
“Yeeeeeeee!” I cried, springing into the air. As the flame of the portal came closer and closer to my face, I could only stop to wonder: had I left the oven on?