Chris’ alarm rang out at precisely 8:00am. He rubbed his eyes, climbed out of bed and stumbled over to the window where he opened the thick, velvet drapes. The intense LA sun brightened up the room, its rays reflected off the dark, mahogany wood floors, making them shine. Chris inhaled deeply and let the air out slowly. Man, he loved it here. The moment was quickly interrupted by the violent spasm of his cell phone going off.
“Gotta love show biz.” Chris chuckled at the little gadget. He picked up the phone, “Tell me something good Al.” It was his associate producer.
A few minutes later Chris, still on the phone, left his house in a hurry.
“No, I told them specifically to wait for me for just that reason…” He got in his car and headed towards the highway while bickering with Al on the phone. “We’re going to lose so much money because of this deal…I know, I’m almost there.”
Chris turned the corner, completely ignoring a stop sign as he weaved through angry commuters, already done with their day before it even started.
“I knew Starlight was going to try to steal the client before our negotiations were finalized, typical.”
A pickup truck crashed into the driver’s side of the car. For a moment, time stood still. Then the airbag deployed, hitting Chris in the face and breaking his nose. Chris’ vision went blurry and his phone dropped out of his hand. Al’s voice could still faintly be heard babbling on the other end. Chris shook his head. He felt his heart beating through his shirt, as if he’d just run a marathon. He put his hand on his chest. His shirt was stained with his own blood. That was close. Another car got caught in the chaos, swiping Chris from the other side.
Chris passed out behind the wheel.
Sometime later, Chris woke up no longer in his car. He lay on his back on the road. Looking around, he realized it wasn’t the same road he had been driving on. He closed his eyes for a moment, convinced that the crash must’ve done something with his head. Opening his eyes again, he found himself still on the mysterious road. He sat up, confused and noticed his nose was no longer broken. Beginning to panic, Chris frantically looked around to see if anyone was near. Perhaps the guy who hit him kidnapped him and left him here! Chris reached into his pocket to find his phone, but discovered it wasn’t there, and neither his wallet. He scrambled to his feet, and noticed the figure of a woman approach him. He squinted to get a better view. Chris didn’t think he knew her, but he’d met more people than he could remember in his line of business. Thinking maybe she could help, he stumbled towards the woman.
“Excuse me…Miss!” Chris said. The woman didn’t reply but continued to walk briskly towards him. She had long, dark hair, olive colored eyes, and moved with a sense of purpose. Chris felt a little intimidated. “Uh, miss, I’ve just been in a car accident, but I can’t find my car… I blacked out…It might’ve gotten towed or something…Do you think I could use your phone?” he asked. The woman chuckled.
“Phones won’t do you much good here.” She said.
“Why’s that?” Chris asked.
She now stood directly in front of him, her eyes stared at him intensely as if she was looking into his soul. Chris couldn’t help but look away.
“Do you think you could point me in the direction of where I can find a working phone?”
“Sit down.” The woman demanded.
Chris, overwhelmed, didn’t know what to say. Who did this woman think she was talking to him like that? However, it had already been a long day and he didn’t feel like getting into an argument with a stranger, so he did as told. The woman sat down on a rock next to him, and explained what happened. He got into an accident, his car was totaled, the two other drivers were in the hospital with severe injuries, and him…
“Stop.” Chris jumped up and started to pace around, “I don’t know who you are or what you want, but there’s no way you’re telling me…” He felt tears rush towards the back of his eyes. No. There’s no way he was going to cry in front of this woman. There’s NO way, he told himself and…he didn’t. Chris paused for a second, he had sworn he was about to embarrass himself and burst out crying but the tears, they never came. They COULDN’T come. He shook his head. He couldn’t cry. As in physically COULD NOT cry. Chris started to spin in circles, realizing he never took a moment to see where he was. He was on a long two-lane highway, which was the only road in sight. Around him was a vast desert, small plants sprouted here and there, but nothing too extravagant. The sky was a pale blue, not the intense fluorescent blue of LA, but more of a smoky blue-gray color, and the sun a faded yellow. Finally, Chris collapsed back to the ground, panting heavily.
“Where am I?” Chris asked, finally making eye contact with the strange woman.
“Limbo Land.” She answered and stretched out her hand. “My name is Victoria. I am the head Decisioner here. I greet all newcomers.”
Chris didn’t shake her hand, but gave her a nod, not knowing what a “Decisioner” was. He was too exhausted to bother to ask.
“We can stay here as long as you like.” Victoria said, Chris was startled when she put her hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him. He wasn’t in the mood and shook it off.
“And then what?” He asked.
“Then, I’ll take you downtown. You’ll be introduced to the rest of Limbo Land.”
Chris looked away from Victoria. He admired the somber landscape. The sun was setting in the distance, making the cream-colored sand appear hazy. It was beautiful, in a sad kind of way. The vast desert made one feel all alone. It reminded him of the roads he would take going back home to the town he grew up in. Back in Wisconsin.
After a few minutes Chris stood up and told Victoria he was ready. They walked silently. It was almost an hour when the town she was talking about emerged in the distance. Victoria escorted Chris into what looked like the main municipal building, and lead him down a long, marble hallway. They entered a large multipurpose room with several rows of chairs set up facing a podium in the front.
“Take any seat you like.” She said.
Chris wandered through the rows of chairs, looking at the faces of the others in the room. Some were frozen still, like statues, blankly staring ahead of them, others couldn’t stop fidgeting, nervously scratching their heads and arms. Chris finally found a seat in the back row by himself where he sat down and prayed to wake up from whatever acid trip he was experiencing. A few minutes later, a short man with gelled up hair and a bowtie stood up behind the podium. He introduced himself as “Ernie” and said he was the president of Limbo Land. Chris snickered, and Victoria gave him a glare from where she was standing on the other side of the room.
Ernie went on to explain a typical stay in Limbo Land was anywhere from 6 months to a year. He said their main purpose was to get everyone adapted and prepared for their “next life,” mentioning weekly meetings with the Decisioners to assist them during the process. At the end of his speech, Ernie told the crowd they would all be getting a buddy, who they would live with and who would help guide them through their journey in Limbo Land. When Chris’ name was called, he stood up and walked towards the front of the room. He had to crouch down in order to shake president Ernie’s hand, then Ernie turned towards a tall, blonde haired guy around Chris’ age.
“Chris, this is Jamie. He will be your buddy.” Ernie said, and continued calling up names.
“Hey.” Jamie said.
“Hi.” Chris replied.
“Why don’t we get out of here? I can show you around a little and then we’ll get you settled at home.”
Chris reluctantly followed Jamie out of the room. As much as he did not like the idea of living in a house with another man, he also did not think he could stay in that room much longer. They exited the municipal building and walked out into the main square. Chris noticed the same dull setting sun in the distance, it didn’t seem to have moved an inch since the last time he saw it.
“Hey, what time is it?” Chris asked Jamie, who checked his watch.
“That sun hasn’t moved since I got here,” he explained “and I must’ve arrived hours ago!”
Jamie got a sudden look of realization and nodded sympathetically. “That sun doesn’t move, Chris.”
“We’re no longer on Earth. We keep time the same way in order to better run things, but the sun doesn’t move, we’re not rotating.”
Jamie’s answer seemed to make sense, so Chris continued walking along. He asked Jamie if he had thick curtains to block out the sun when sleeping. Jamie chuckled and told him that he no longer, physically, needed sleep. Chris was starting to get a better feeling for this place. After all, a place where he couldn’t cry and didn’t need to sleep, that didn’t sound so bad. He followed Jamie down the road, who pointed out places like the local barber shop, deli (where Chris learned that he also didn’t need to eat but people did anyway because they liked the taste), and the bar (because who knew but apparently dead souls could also get drunk). Finally, they stopped at a house, which Jamie said was theirs.
A few days later, Chris stumbled home late from the bar. He’d been spending a lot of time there since coming to Limbo Land. It seemed no matter how friendly and supportive everyone was, he still could not wrap his head around the fact that his “life” was completely different. He missed waking up to the blue skies of LA every morning, or going to the local coffee shop in his suit and seeing all the ladies turn their heads as he walked by. Most of all, he missed his job. It had consumed his life on Earth and, quite frankly, he was not getting along without it. He missed Al, who used to call him almost every morning with some sort of melt down. As Chris walked, he noticed a small trail that led down to a set of docks. Curiously, he followed the trail down to a lake. He sat down at the end of one of the docks, staring out onto the horizon. The lake seemed to go on for miles, and it felt like he could just sit here, forever, and be perfectly content. He didn’t notice a figure was walking towards him, until he heard a subtle laugh coming from the distance. He turned to see who it was, but saw only woods and the trail he had come from. He got up hastily when he heard the laugh again. It was coming from the woods, and seemed to be growing louder. He walked closer and, just at the entrance to the woods, he saw the figure. It was leaning on a tree about 5 yards away.
“Who are you?” Chris called out. The figure didn’t answer at first, but flashed a smile and started to walk towards him.
“They call me Cameron.” A man replied, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.
“What are you laughing about?”
Cameron flashed another crooked smile and didn’t answer, but instead asked another question in return.
“Do you miss home, Christopher?”
“How do you know my name?” Chris asked, wishing he had just gone home.
“Don’t look so worried, I know everybody’s name.” Cameron took a long drag. “If you miss home, I got something to show you.” He turned, and started walking towards the woods. Chris was unsure as to whether to follow him, but eventually figured that there was no way he could become more dead, so there was really nothing to worry about. He followed Cameron into the woods, and the two came across a clearing. In the center there was a huge pit with caution tape around it. Chris stared in amazement.
“Welcome to the Pit.” Cameron turned around, took another drag of his cigarette. “I have a feeling you’ll like it.”
Chris eyed Cameron skeptically, it was hard to tell if this guy was being malicious or if he was just totally crazy.
“What is so great about a giant hole in the ground?” Chris asked.
“It’s not just a hole in the ground, Christopher. This is a gateway, between this world and the one you just left.”
Chris paused, was this guy saying that going back to Earth was as easy as jumping down a giant hole? It didn’t seem like it should be that simple.
“You see Chris. I know you don’t want to be here, and I can help you go back to your old life. As long as you put in a good word for me with your new Decisioner friend.”
Chris didn’t know what to say. He liked the idea of getting to see his beloved LA again, but didn’t trust Cameron. Besides, if he needed Chris, someone who had only been in Limbo Land for a few days to put in a good word for him, he clearly was up to no good.
“Sorry, I’m not interested.” Chris said.
He stumbled through the woods, trying to get away from Cameron and the Pit. He could hear Cameron yelling something indistinguishable at him. Chris cursed as he tripped over branches and twigs, finally making it back to the trail that had taken him to the docks. When he got home, he didn’t mention a word to Jamie and locked himself in his room.
The next day, Chris came downstairs and found Jamie’s eyes glued to the television. He peered over Jamie’s shoulder to see what was on and saw a list of names of people who had been approved for Heaven this month.
“Those are the lucky ones.” Chris remarked and Jamie, not realizing he was there, turned around.
“You’re telling me, I had my meeting with the Decisioners yesterday. They said I might be eligible for next month!”
Chris still hadn’t mentioned anything to Jamie about last night. Since nobody had previously mentioned the Pit, he had a feeling it wasn’t supposed to be found. Despite his new little secret, Chris had slowly been warming up to Jamie. He had learned recently that the two of them actually had a lot more in common than he thought. Jamie had been a highly decorated police officer. He had only been in Limbo Land for two months before Chris, having died in a drunk driving accident. He fell off the wagon after his wife had perished from breast cancer only six months prior. The whole thing was tragic. Chris realized the reason him and Jamie had been placed together in the first place was because they had both died in a car accident. He guessed president Ernie and the Decisioners thought they could help each other somehow. Chris scrambled some eggs and sat on the couch, trying to see if he recognized any of the names.
“How do people actually go to Heaven?” Chris asked.
“There’s a lake on the other side of town,” Jamie answered, “every month a boat comes and brings those who are ready across. I’ll take you down to see it sometime.” Chris was about to mention that he had already found the lake, but realized that might bring up his encounter with Cameron and decided not to say anything. He continued watching the names as they rolled across the screen, wondering if his name would be listed one day.
Later on, Chris decided to return to the docks, hoping that his new “friend” wouldn’t be there. He followed the trail he had used the night before, and just sat for a while, looking out onto the vast horizon. It made sense that this was where souls went to reach Heaven. The waves were a cool turquoise that glittered under the pale, never setting sun. They crashed ever so lightly on the rocks beneath the dock and made a sound that Chris could only compare to Angels singing. It was the most peaceful place in Limbo Land.
After sitting for a while Chris eventually got up and started to walk towards the forest. This probably was a bad idea, but he couldn’t control his curiosity. He did, after all, miss the life and the people he had left behind, and couldn’t help but wish that he had at least gotten the chance to say goodbye. His life had ended too suddenly, and with no warning. There’s so much he would have wanted to say and do if he had known his life would be forever changed on that day.
Chris meandered his way into the dark woods, stepping over loose twigs and squeezing between overgrown shrubs. Eventually he came to the clearing that Cameron had brought him to the day before. Luckily, there was no sign of him and Chris breathed a sigh of relief. He walked right up to the edge of the Pit, the yellow caution tape lay flat across his chest and he peered his head over, wondering if he would be able to see Earth, but all he could see was an endless black void. Perhaps Cameron had lied to him, Chris thought, maybe this Pit didn’t even lead to Earth at all. Maybe it even led to Hell! Just as Chris was about to step back, he heard the slight crack of a twig behind him. He turned to see who it was when he felt a hand push at the small of his back. He spun and saw Cameron with a smile on his face. Losing his balance and with his arms flailing, Chris fell into the Pit.
When Chris woke up, he was once again lying on a road. He sat up, and realized that this was the road where the car accident had happened, and he was sitting right in the intersection! Cars came and hit him from all directions, but…he felt nothing. They just went right through him! He laughed, praising whatever divine powers that be that he was in fact back in Los Angeles! After purposefully jumping in front of cars for a few minutes, he decided he would take this time to do all the things he hadn’t gotten the chance to do before he died. He still wanted to tell everyone at work how much he was going to miss them. He started walking down the boulevard, occasionally sticking his hand out in traffic and cracking up when the cars went right through it.
Some half an hour later, Chris was standing outside of his building. He took a moment to admire it. So many brilliant artists had come through here. This was a place where dreams were made. He walked in and started looking for his coworkers. Chris took the elevator up to the 13th floor, and decided to fool around with the other passengers by making the buttons light up and the doors open and close.
“This is freaking me out!” one woman exclaimed, and got out, stating she was going to take the stairs.
Chris was definitely enjoying himself. When he got to the 13th floor the first thing he looked for was Al’s office. He walked right through the door and saw Al sitting at his desk talking frantically on the phone.
“I know…” Al stammered, “Yes, I understand. My sincere apologies. Our office has been a bit flustered after the passing of our managing producer, Chris…” Chris was touched. Maybe he hadn’t been so forgotten after all. “Thank you so much, goodbye.” Al hung up the phone, put his head in his hands.
“Hey Al!” Chris called over to him, but Al didn’t hear him. “Al!”
Al looked over his shoulder, as if he might’ve heard something, then shook his head and started to read the papers that were piled up on his desk. Frustrated, Chris tried to come up with another way to communicate. He picked up a piece of paper, thinking he could write a note. He was looking for a pen when Al glanced up and saw the paper floating midair.
“What the hell!” Al exclaimed, grabbing the paper right out of Chris’s hand. Al then dialed the phone for his secretary. “Donna, can you lower the AC? There’s some kind of funny draft in here.” He hung up the phone.
Chris couldn’t believe it. A draft? A DRAFT?! Here he was trying to communicate with his best friend, and he excused it as some kind of draft? Bitter and angry, Chris stormed out of the office and back towards the elevator. Not a single person noticed his presence. All just walked through him as though he wasn’t even there. Chris went back down to the lobby and ran out the door as fast as he could. He didn’t want to be anywhere near that place.
When Chris finally stopped running, he was somewhere in the suburbs. He walked along the avenues for a long time. Still upset about what had happened in Al’s office. He tried to wrap his head around the fact that his life, or “afterlife,” really was going to be different after all. At least it wasn’t like he was forgotten; he had seen how distraught Al was when he had mentioned his passing on the phone. He sat down on the curb, debating whether to head back or not. He wasn’t even entirely sure how he could get back to Limbo Land. He wondered if anyone had even noticed he went missing.
After fighting with his thoughts for a few minutes, Chris realized he had been sitting directly across the street from his ex-girlfriend, Maddie’s, house. Shit. He hadn’t talked to her in years. They had met as kids back in Wisconsin and had dated through high school. She had then gone to college in New York City and left him all to himself. A few months after she left, he had decided to move to LA. It was something he had considered for a long time but didn’t have the courage to do until she left. After a few years, she also moved to the area and the two of them had tried to rekindle things, but to no avail. Chris was still pretty bitter about her leaving, and things didn’t get very far.
Chris got up from the curb and started walking towards the house, he peered into the window and saw Maddie sitting at her kitchen table, eating dinner alone. In the back of his mind, he figured this was a bad idea, that it would probably end the same way his visit to the office did, but once again he couldn’t stop himself. He stepped through the wall, he could really get used to this, and walked towards her. He saw on the table there was an open newspaper with his obituary in it. It seems as if Maddie hadn’t forgotten him either. Just as he was about to go up and speak to her, a sharp voice echoed from behind him.
“What do you think you’re doing!?”
Chris spun around and saw Victoria standing in the living room, arms crossed, an exasperated look on her face.
“Look it wasn’t me... Cameron-”
“I know what Cameron did.” Victoria cut him off, “Chris, we need to leave, you shouldn’t be here-”
“I just wanted to say goodbye.” He cut her off. “Alright, that’s it!”
“And what about what just happened at the office?” Victoria reminded him.
Chris refused to listen. He put his hand on Maddie’s arm and she shivered, as if hit by a chill, and pulled her arm away.
“You’re only going to scare her.” Victoria scolded, “We don’t have much time.”
“What do you mean?” Chris snapped, “We’re DEAD, we have ALL the time.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Victoria replied, her voice quivering, “The part that Cameron must’ve ‘forgotten’ to tell you is this, if you don’t return to Limbo Land 24 hours after leaving, you can never return. Chris you’ll be stuck here, as a ghost.”
“What?!” Chris exclaimed.
He nodded towards Victoria and they both started to run, dashing out of the house, and down the street. After running for a few minutes, Chris remembered that he actually had no idea where they were going. He shouted over at Victoria, who replied they needed to make it to the woods on the outskirts of town. Chris followed Victoria into the woods where they eventually came across a hole, much smaller and less impressive than the Pit, hidden behind a shrub. Victoria climbed down first and Chris followed her, they crawled for nearly an hour when they finally resurfaced. As Chris emerged from the ditch, he saw the same desert and two-lane highway that he had seen when he first arrived in Limbo Land.
“Is this how you bring all newly dead souls to Limbo Land?” he asked, panting.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Victoria replied.
The two began their slow trek back to town. Chris was unsure of what to say, still in disbelief of the past 24 hours. Victoria seemed to recognize his uncertainty.
“Everything will be alright.” She told him, “You weren’t the first soul to be drawn to the Pit and you won’t be the last.”
It had been about a month since the incident with the Pit. Victoria brought Chris back to the town hall that night, where the other Decisioners had been waiting, and they were all furious. Chris paid his dues for the whole thing by working as a clerk for the town hall office for the past month and for the next two still to come. He probably answered millions of calls every day from aggravated souls asking if their names had moved any closer to being on this month’s list for Heaven. He wondered if this is what criminals ended up doing for all eternity.
Chris had been spending a lot of time down by the docks. With Cameron permanently forbidden from the area, he no longer worried that his visits would be interrupted. Apparently, Cameron pushing Chris into the Pit hadn’t been his first run-in with the law in Limbo Land. After a brawl at the local pub, Cameron had gotten himself put on the Extended Visitor’s list, meaning his stay in Limbo Land was extended indefinitely. He thought he could get off the list by offering Chris a way back home in exchange for him putting in a good word with Victoria. Obviously when Chris turned him down, he was angry, and took the opportunity to get his revenge when Chris foolishly went back to the Pit the following night.
Chris let his feet dangle into the cool water below. Victoria accompanied him some days, and the two would spend hours just talking. He told her all about how he had gone from just a brokenhearted young boy in a midwestern town to one of the highest paid producers in Hollywood. He learned Victoria had taken up her post as Decisioner, quickly moving up the ranks to Head Decisioner, over 200 years ago. She had died giving birth to her second child, the wife of a profound judge. Chris liked his long talks with Victoria, and for the first time since coming to Limbo Land he felt like he had a friend.
Chris heard voices cheering behind him and knew his privacy was coming to an end. Today was a special day. It was finally Jamie’s turn to cross the lake into Heaven. Chris was glad to see Jamie move on. Their lives had both been taken away so suddenly, too soon.
Chris stood up, and found Jamie amongst the crowd of eager onlookers. Opening his arms, the two stood in a long embrace.
“Good luck.” Chris said.
Jamie nodded, and walked down to the docks. He stopped at the end of the longest one, turned and waved towards the crowd. Chris waved back eagerly. Victoria came up behind him, also waving. Jamie turned back around and climbed into a small boat that Chris had never noticed before. The boat started to move, all on its own, across the pearly waves and into the beyond. Chris didn’t stop waving until Jamie was out of sight. He felt as if tears should be streaming down his face but, of course, they would never come. Victoria put a hand on his shoulder.
“One day,” she said, “that’ll be you.”
Chris turned and hugged her. The two stood there a while, and by the time they had let go most of the crowd had left, Jamie was no longer visible. The two then started the walk back, and Chris realized that for the first time since coming here he would go home to a house all by himself. He turned around only once, to see if he could catch the slightest glimpse of Jamie, but, like Chris in Los Angeles, he was gone. He followed Victoria the rest of the way, knowing in his heart that she was right.