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Man sits on solitary chair, stage right, pinhole spot. Mottled blue and red swirling light on cyc. behind him which stretches along the back of the stage. The rest of the stage is in darkness.

The man is wearing a teddy bear costume with a red vest, buttons running down it. One of the buttons is noticeably loose. He is holding a clipboard with papers clipped to it.

He is bored, passing time, waiting, not happy to be there.

He sighs deeply, in the manner of exhibiting tested patience.

He notices the audience, acknowledges them with a quick raise and lowering of his head. Maybe he spouts a quick “hey.”

He waits several beats. Exhibits some traits of impatience.

He looks again at the audience.

Man: It’s not easy, you know … Death I mean. What? You think bing-bang and you’re gone forever? Huh. Or better yet, you pretend that you’re nice and you pretend that you have good thoughts about everybody, and, when you slip off into the great beyond, the white angels lift your soul to some cloud-carpeted suite where an old, bearded man says, “Enter, my child. Your soul shall rest in heaven.”

Ha! There is no rest, my friend. We are in a constant state of movement—all based on our choices, of course. I mean, you die at the appointed time, I come down and pull you back up, you’re debriefed, you fill out the next Pre-incarnation Application 1A42-17—you know, what dimension, life-station, the experience parameters you want—and then you wait your turn at the Department of Body Acquisition and Soul Placement … (for decades) …  and they set you up … theoretically. But they’ve been having some problems in Body Acquisition. There’s no work ethic in that department. Every once in a while they’ll slip a soul into the wrong body, you know. And then we’ve got to go in and fix it for them. You wouldn’t believe the overtime we’ve been racking up. Not to mention the paperwork.

Oh, it’s a bureaucracy, my friend, and Death is just one of the cogs in the greater wheel of this ether-filled, multi-dimensional universe. Sure, it looks easy: Death. You float, you know, kind of hover, not walk, but hover upright, slowly moving toward the lately departed, your black Armageddon robe billowing behind you in the otherwise still air. You stick out a bony finger, point it toward the newly deceased, beckon menacingly, then escort the bewildered dead to their next destination, whatever that may be. Right? Yeah, well, let me tell you ’bout that one, my friend: Jeptha of Sinon! No! Really, that was him: Jeptha of Sinon. That little idea got him moved up to Undersecretary of Receiving.

Well, it was timely, you know. I mean, hell, I wouldn’t begrudge him the recognition, although I’d like to, the rat bastard. Okay, here it was: The Department of  Inhabitant Management ordered up a new global restructuring program, complete with a new world-wide contagion, and yet, they forget to send a memo to Notification and Receiving? I mean, what the hell? That’s the first place you send a memo. Come on, have you tried to handle a global catastrophe with an entire battalion of Death Notification trainees? Well, even a first year Notification Specialist can see “Cluster Fuck” written all over that plan. Jesus! I mean, you’d think they’ve learned that from the Extinction Meteor debacle. That was a nightmare!

On the other hand, we did have a decade notification for the Great Flood. Now, that was some good work there. People were on the ball with that one. None of this “Oh, by the way, tell your people we’re wiping out humanity tomorrow.” I mean, we had tactical and procedural manuals that thick. Training programs, exercises, live fire maneuvers. We were prepared for that one.

I don’t know, I guess when you do something really well you sometimes get complacent.

Anyway, back to Jeptha—we were working the usual shifts, you know, I mean nothing spectacular. At that time I was working the Mediterranean. That was some nice work, there. Sun, ocean. Nothing too bad, you know. Some drownings, which are actually pretty easy. You know that whole back to the womb thing, breathing liquid. I mean they know they’re dead (which helps us out in the long run). These souls who drown kind of go though this birthing reversal thing and it’s like they’re expecting you. Like they remember, you know? It’s easy. It’s when they don’t expect you that things get rough.

Suddenly things start going haywire over in the Asian Sector. I mean, Jesus! The whole Department of Notification and Receiving was swamped, instantly understaffed, and they were pulling people from Africa and the Near East. Well, they couldn’t handle it. And, that was it. They actually went with a full multi-dimensional alert. They started pulling every Tom, Quag and Bedeeeeeeeeeetzwildtpk from the Ether to use them as Death Notification trainees.

But you see, the notification process ain’t so easy. The procedure at that time was to just recombinate psychically to the new dead as a physicalized manifestation of a skeleton, and that was a pretty good clue for them that it was time to move on, you know.

Now a full body skeleton is pretty tough to put together psychically; there are a lot of parts you’re trying to think together, you know? Well, we just didn’t have time to train the new Notification Specialists thoroughly. Shit, we had boneless canaries, sentient clothing, and blue mists all over the fucking place. That meant thousands of unnotified walking dead.

Well, Jeptha had come up through Early Greece and Rome and was just released from a stint in Mongolia (I mean this guy had seen some shit come down). Well, he knew pretty well how to handle some major numbers of newly dead in a quick fashion with relatively fresh Notifiers. His idea was to simplify. Simplify everything.

Now a bony hand—not too hard to psychically recombinate, especially if you break it down into just five long, curved bones instead of trying to get all the carpal, metacarpal, phalange-pangy stuff, right? I mean, they see a floating set of hand bones coming toward ‘em, they ain’t gonna look hard enough to notice and say, “Hey! That floatin’ hand bone ain’t got no metacarpus!” Naw, they’re gonna figure the jig is up. Clothing? Behind the blue mist, clothing is the easiest thing to recombinate psychically, and if it’s a one-piecer, you can do it in your sleep. You see, the black Armageddon robe covers up the need to recombinate the rest of the skeleton; you just have the hand to deal with, you know. Pretty simple.

Now the scythe was another matter. You see, some newly dead did not take us seriously. And when we’re dealing with the numbers of newly dead that the Black Plague was working up, they got to take us seriously… fast. Well, the scythe just added the punctuation mark to our get-up. Who ain’t gonna listen to a freakin’ Armageddon-robed, bone-handed guy with a big-assed scythe. My point exactly.

Yeah, those were the days.

But, you know the only constant is change. And, well, we had to change with the times.

Now we are working toward a “kinder, gentler” Department of Notification and Receiving. My ass. Apparently we were becoming a bit too disturbing while notifying our prospective newly deceased. Now the protocol is to notify the newly deceased psychically recombinated as A: a manifestation of some earthly departed loved one (you know, like in that scene from Ghost. Ah, that was a nice movie!), or B: as that which was ordained to bring about his or her Earthly demise (you know, if they’re killed by a big city bus, we show up as a talking big city bus, kind of like a mass transit version of Herbie the Love bug—kind of shake ‘em into recognition), or C: as the newly deceased’s most prized and loved possession (a hold-over from the 1980s. I can’t tell you how many candy apple red Porsche 911s I’ve come back as), or D: any combination thereof (see, many times I am able to come back as their prized possession, which also was the thing that did in fact kill them—note the Porsche 911s).

Well, now you got to be creative. You got to do your homework, your background checking. You don’t want to show up as a talking chicken bone to Melvin Blumberg when he has actually just had a myocardial infarction, you know what I mean? Oh, listen to this: we had this one kid, just got done with training, going out on his first solo notification, you know. Well, his newly deceased just died in Bangladesh of beriberi; you know, one of these nasty tropical wasting away kind of deaths. I kept telling the kid, the new notifier, “Do your research. You got to do your research.” Well, this kid shows up as a talking bunch of big yellow berries off a Persian lilac. I mean, Jesus. Yeah, it is an Asian plant. Yeah, it is poisonous, but A: it’s got nothing to do with how he died, and B: you never—never!—show up as anything remotely edible to a newly dead who has wasted away. Cause you know what? He’s feeling a lot better, and he’s fucking hungy. He had the kid half eaten before we knew what was going on! You only make that mistake once.

The positive is that it’s brought out the challenge in the job again, you know. It weeded out the mediocre Notification Specialists and the other post-physical ne’re-do-wells. So I guess it’s a good thing. I mean, I can take pride in my job again, you know.

But I got to tell you, this over-time work is killing me. (Looks at paper) Case in point: my next notification, little four-year old Billy L. Wanamaker of Pawtucket. (He fingers the unraveled button) Look at this… another misbodied soul match. You know, you order one body incarnation and you’re not expecting to be birthed into another. See, this guy ordered an hermaphroditic double-jointed Afro-Asian with enhanced physical acumen and ended up as a white Lutheran in suburban New Jersey. Well, it’s not the worst misbodied soul match I’ve had to deal with.

Ding. Lights stop swirling

Well, that’s my cue.

He gets up, smoothes down his teddy bear suit and begins exiting into the darkness toward stage left. Stops, rips off the loose button, tosses it, catches it. Looks to audience.

See you ’round. [Exits]


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