Holy Smoke by Beck Collett

I watch, in silence, as he blinks his way around in a full circle, taking it all in. Nearly everyone reacts the same: confusion, shock, slight disappointment, relief. Finally, his eyes came to rest on me.

Blinking stops, mouth opens, tongue, at first, refuses to work: shan't, won't, can't make me. And then, ‘I haven't gone and died, have I?’

First few times, I felt unprepared for the mammoth responsibility of being the one to tell them, but before I got to afternoon tea-break on my third shift I had it under control.

It’s bad news I’m afraid.’ I smile as ruefully as possible. ‘You're in the good place, though.’

‘Yes, yes, I suppose that is an achievement of sorts. Is it always so, so…?’

I know what he's thinking – if I seem ungrateful, will I be sent below deck? Where are the gates?

I shake my head, smiling as he concentrates on his shuffling feet. ‘You aren't expected to be perfect, Archibald—’

‘Archie, if you will. Whenever anyone uses my Christian name, I always feel as though I'm in trouble. Which I suppose I am, aren't I? Can't get in much deeper trouble than dying.’

Oh, you'd be surprised, I want to say, but it's not my place. I'm merely a doorman, a ticket inspector, a menial low-grade lacky that keeps the world turning. Instead, I stick to the script. ‘You're not in trouble, Archie. Think of this as just another chapter in—’

‘Please don't say the story of my life, I can't bear clich├ęs. I should be convinced this was Hell, then!’ He laughs with his mouth, while eying me wildly, silently pleading with me to correct him.

‘Sorry, Archie,’ I sigh, looking genuinely upset. First time in millennia someone’s guessed. No bonus for me this year.

Selected - Weekly Write #10

Published in Issue #27

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