Short Story – Afterlife

afterlife     The white lights switched on, bathing the stage with their fluorescent glow. A man stood silhouetted in a red, sequin suit holding a microphone that was larger than it had any right to be.  He took a deep breath and stepped out toward the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s youuuurr afterlife!” The crowd went wild with applause. He smiled at them with the lopsided grin that only a man missing half his face could achieve.

A sea of corpses raised their hands in excited anticipation as a door rose from beneath the stage. All the spotlights went out and a red glow came from beneath the door’s wooden frame. “Well folks, looks like it’s time to start playing!” A rabbi in the audience collapsed half out of excitement, and half because the last sinew of muscle holding his spine together had finally snapped.

“Let’s give them a countdown,” cheered the host.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” shouted the crowd in unison. Priests who had been burned alive in the seventeenth century for heresy raised a cry of “Christian! Christian!”, while an equally macabre group of catholic missionaries yelled “Heaven’s dope, follow The Pope!”

The door flung open, spewing a white glow onto the stage. A young man stepped out through the light. The cheers died down in nervous anticipation. “Where am I?” he called out, his voice echoing off the walls. The crowd whispered with tense murmurs.

“It’s not where you are that matters kid,” said the host as he stepped out of the shadows once more.

The young man flinched back at the sight of his gruesome face.

“Oh don’t be offended by my ‘slack jaw’. You’re not so good looking yourself.” The crowd laughed and a brighter spotlight flashed onto the young man. It revealed a five-foot metal pipe that had skewered him right through the chest. To the living, it might have been a cause for vomiting, screaming, or exorcism, but to the dead it was a spectacle.

“Ouch, that’s gotta hurt,” laughed the host good-naturedly.

Large signs illuminated with the word ‘laughter’, and the crowd followed suit. An old woman wearing a lime-green robe that could have only belonged to a cult slapped her knee, and it fell off.

The young man stood in shocked silence. “It’s a lot to take in, but are you ready to play?” The host called back to his days as a used car salesman, and summoned a reassuring grin.

“Play?” asked the man, still confused. “Play what?”

“Oh it’s the game of games,” answered the host with a sweeping gesture to the crowd. “Step this way.” He grabbed the pole that the young man was impaled on with a pristine white glove, and led him to a pulpit with a microphone on it. “Alright, let’s start with the basics. What’s your name? Where you from? How’d you die?”

“I um, I’m Gary.” A sign lit up on the front of the pulpit, outlining ‘Gary’ in flashing lights.

“Great Gary, where you from?” The host looked at the audience and winked, nearly losing his eye in the process.

“I’m from Utah,” said Gary with hesitation. “Wait, did you say I’m dead?”

“Oh, Utah, nice this time of year.” A board lit up behind them displaying a picture of a red rock arch. “And, Gary from Utah how was it that you came to join us?” He looked down at the pole in Gary’s chest with an air of placation.

“I can’t really remember. I was driving a truck, and then,”

“Car accident. Bam! Pole goes right through you. Tragic story I’m sure. Wife and kids?”

“Well yeah,” Gary stammered.

“Too bad for them eh? Well I hope you had insurance.” A cameraman off-stage missing both his legs held up five fingers indicating that they were running out of time. “Alright Gary, I think we have what we need. Now audience members, it’s time to vote.” Lights splayed out over the audience as dramatic music played. A tally began ticking away on the board with percentages. There was a loud buzzer and the tally stopped.

“Alright Gary, let’s see what we’ve got. A whopping 75% said Mormon Easy answer, easy answer, but a good guess. We’ve got 15% saying Jewish, 9.7% Catholic, and a .3% saying Scientologist. Tom, was that you?” The audience laughed again, but soon fell quiet, waiting for the result.

“Well Gary, that is quite something, let me tell you. A landslide for the Mormons. It’s not every day you see that. Now there’s only one answer left that matters, and that’s yours. What religion were you before you died.”

All the lights focused on Gary. He would have been sweating, but one of the facets of death precluded him from doing so. From somewhere behind the stage, a clock began to tick loudly. “Well it’s changed now,” muttered Gary.

“Ah, ah, ah, no cheating now Gary. What was it?” The hosts friendly demeanor had been replaced with that of a principal reprimanding a problemed student.

“Well uh…” Gary faltered. “I uh… I was actually an atheist.”

The crowd uttered a collective gasp as the host ushered Gary to the side of the stage. Stunned silence turned to chants of “Boo!”

“An atheist?” The host’s decomposed complexion became even paler.

“Well yeah, there was no evidence for any…”

The host cut him off. “Well Gary, I will say that is a surprise.”

The cameraman wound his fingers, telling the host to wrap it up.

“Well Gary, as much as you seem like a perfectly fine individual, I’m afraid you’ve been disqualified.” The host mimed a crying gesture.

“Disqualified?” Gary’s eyes grew white.

“Don’t worry, we’ve still got a prize for you! Have a nice trip.” The host pulled a lever, opening a trap door beneath Gary, sending him plummeting down a long, dark chute. In a matter of seconds, his screams died down to a whisper and a large plume of fire shot up from the hole in the floor.

“Well, what a shocking turn of events,” said the host, regaining his composure. The square in the floor lit up red once again and the board went blank. “Let’s try again shall we? Give me a countdown!”

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