Word limit: 1,200 words
“Fill out the first three pages, sign here, initial here, here, and here, and then return it to me. With the pen.”
Jacob looked at the woman behind the gray steel desk. She had high cheekbones and piercing green blue eyes and she probably was pretty when she was younger. He looked at her for a moment, he thought that she was anywhere between sixty and eighty. Her hair was short, with a blue tint that was popular in the sixties, but she wore tortoise rim glasses that were fashionable today.
He glanced around the room as large as the gymnasium from his high school. There were thirty identical desks in the room, each with a line of at least fifty people. The people sitting at the desks were men and women, young and old, white, black, brown. The black man sitting at the desk to his right was speaking with a Cockney dialect to an older man while the young white woman to his left was speaking in some African language with various clicks in her diction. He looked back at the woman in front of him again; she peered over her glasses back at him.
“Why am I filling out paperwork?”
“Admission application,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
He waited for an answer. She smiled. An impatient smile that slightly curled her lips, but did not extend to her eyes or brows or cheeks. She said nothing more.
“So, the application is for …” he asked again.
She reached into her side drawer and pulled out a red manila folder. She thumbed through several stapled packets, found one, and slid across to him.
“Everything is in there. Next.”
The woman behind him, dressed in a burka, coughed but did not directly look at him. He nodded and stepped aside and the old woman at the table started speaking in Arabic. He walked to a table and sat down. The form was mostly filled out for him. It had his name and date of birth. His date of death was listed on the paper.
He stared at the paper as a searing pain shot through his temples. He was dead. Or supposed to die. He looked at his watch, the second hand was stopped and the watch listed today’s date. Or the day he thought it should be. The date of his death. He slid the stapled packet over in front of him and started reading.
He was applying to the “hereafter”, ultimate destination to be determined after review of the application and any supporting documentation. A decision would be made any time from today on, and the committee reserved the right not to make a decision. The living could petition for a decision on his behalf through prayer. Any decision of the committee was final, and immune from appeal or prosecution.
Jacob filled in his application but did not sign it. He went back to his line, but the light over the blue haired woman had been turned off. A man at another desk waived and signaled him to his table. Jacob slid his application over to the man. He was dressed in a high collared white shirt with an embroidered red band at the neck and a pair of plain pants. He looked as though he had taken part in the Bolshevik revolution and had thick black eye brows and a mustache. He spoke perfect English with a hint of a Midwest, probably southern Ohio, dialect. The man, he had a small plaque on his desk that said “Nikolay”, looked at the paperwork. He slid it back to Jacob and told him to sign and date the application. Jacob told him that there had been a mistake.
“Everyone says there’s a mistake.”
“No, I have a contract.”
Jacob reached into his jacket and removed a sealed envelope. He had had the contract for three years; it had another eight years and four months before it expired. He broke the seal, opened the envelope, and slid it across the table to Nikolay. Nikolay read the contract and attached sticky arrows to parts of the contract that he thought were important. He told Jacob to have a seat.
Jacob walked to the back of the large room and sat in a folding metal chair with scratches in the brown paint. He watched people move through the lines and most were directed to two side doors from the room, holding their applications in front of them as if they were divining rods. A young woman, her paperwork said she was eighteen, sat next to Jacob.
“I’m dead,” she said to him. “And since I didn’t finish my community service project, they’re keeping me out of heaven.”
Jacob turned and looked at her. She was dressed in a soccer uniform with white jersey, red shorts, and soccer cleats. She had a gash at her temple, he could see her skull, but there was no bleeding.
“I meant to do it, I really did, but I was like real busy with prom, and the yearbook, and college applications, like who had time to get out to the shelter to pass out meals.” She stopped and let out a long sob. “This really sucks.”
Jacob asked for her application and read through the answers. He took his pen and changed three words. He added another line under achievements. He nodded his head toward the lines and the young woman followed him. They walked to a desk with a middle aged Chinese woman dressed in a green military uniform with a red armband. Jacob slid the paperwork in front of her.
“Nous avons fait une erreur,” he said. He pointed to different lines on the paper, flipping the pages back and forth fairly rapidly.
The woman stopped and looked at the pages. She took a large marker from the drawer and checked a box on top of the form. She handed it to the girl.
“Vous pouvez entrer, vers la droite.”
She tried to smile, it looked like a frown, but the girl thanked her. The girl looked at Jacob, she stepped forward to hug him, but she squeezed his hand instead, and ran to the door on the right side of the room.
A nurse and a construction worker stepped up to Jacob and told him to follow them. He stood in front of a rather stern looking man with a beak shaped nose, small black eyes and a tic that struck the corner of his mouth. He told Jacob that he had reviewed his contract and did not see how it pertained to his arrival.
“I sold my soul to become famous. I’ve got eight more years,” he said, raising his voice with each word, nearly screaming when he said “years”.
The man looked up and removed his rimless glasses and squinted as he spoke to Jacob.
“Good news, you’re out of your contract. Bad news is you’re dead.”
He took Jacob’s application and checked the box at the top of the form.
“But I …”
The man pointed to the side door not taken by the young woman.
“You get what you deserve, but without the benefits.”