John Robbins was dead.
As much as he hated to admit it to himself, as he gazed down at his bloodied and battered body lying on the hospital gurney, alone and forgotten here in Casualty since they had given up the fight to save him, he had to accept the fact that he was quite dead. He should never have let Sharon talk him into mountain climbing, the bitch. He was really more of a watch-the-football-down-the-pub kind of Sportsman. Had been, rather.
He had wandered around the hospital for quite a while, trying to get someone to talk to him, before he had stumbled upon his own earthly remains, looking a bit like cold congealed savory mince. It was a shocking sight, one no man should be confronted with without first having a few stiff drinks. John thought mournfully that, at the moment, he was probably stiffer than any drink he'd ever had in his life. And secondly, that having a drink was only one of the many things he was going to miss about being alive.
He instinctively moved aside as a pretty young nurse bustled in behind him- a few people had walked right through him already and although there was no pain involved it was still a disturbing sensation. It was oddly like being molested. He watched her as she matter-of-factly began to remove tubes and needles and the assorted paraphernalia of the attempted resuscitation from his cold and still body.
"You were only a young fella yourself, weren't you?" she said to him, making him jump.
"Yeah, cut off in the prime of me life," he answered dolefully.
"What a pity, very nice looking too," she continued.
"Why thank you, not everyone's cup of tea, but I suppose I'll do for some."
"Let's see what you had," she whispered, and took a little peek under the cloth they had placed over his exposed genitals, having cut his trousers off at the scene of the accident.
"Pervert!" John exclaimed. "I could sue you for that if I was alive!"
"Hmm….not bad at all. Someone will be missing you." John grinned in spite of himself. "Although from the looks of you it's probably another boy. You've a very sensitive mouth."
"Hey- I am not gay! In fact if I was alive I'd have had you pulled before you knew what hit you, little tart." The words "if I was alive" depressed him again and he dragged his spectral body out of the room, leaving the nurse to her one-way conversation with his cadaver.
After what seemed like several hours of meandering aimlessly around the hospital (although it could have been days, it was hard to distinguish time on this plane but the staff seemed to have changed at least once or twice) he happened into a darkened room with a closed door where a couple was in the throes of passion upon the vacant bed in the corner.
"Oh, beg pardon," he said, before he had remembered his circumstances, and turned to walk back through the wall. Then he thought, 'well, what the hell- it's the closest I'll get to ever having any sex again,' and turned around to watch them. It was like viewing a porn film, only this time he was on the screen and the shagging people were the audience. Odd, and yet oddly compelling at the same time. They were mostly clothed, the man in hospital scrubs so he was obviously a member of the staff, his trousers pulled down just enough to expose his pumping bottom, and the woman's short skirt pulled up to her waist to afford him access. John couldn't see her head since it was currently hidden from his view by the man's, but he thought there was something vaguely familiar about the legs that were wrapped around the fella's upper thighs, urging him on. The couple was humping away in relative silence, owing to the proximity of so many other people just on the other side of the door, but as the woman reached her peak she let out a little squealing cry that John recognized with a shock. Just then the man reared himself up to thrust himself to orgasm and revealed the woman's face.
"Sharon! It didn't take you long, did it you whore- I'm barely cold and here you are bonking some intern."
"He's not an intern, he's a doctor," said a matter of fact voice behind him. If John had still technically had skin he would have jumped out of it.
"JESUS!" he exclaimed.
"Shhh!" Sharon commanded her partner, raising her head suddenly. "Did you hear something?"
"Nnnnnngaaaaa," was all the man could answer, being currently occupied with filling a Trojan with semen.
"You have to be careful," the calm feminine voice continued, "if you get emotional enough they can hear you, sense you at any rate, and some of them can see you and hear you anyway."
"What…how can YOU see me?" John asked, turning and just making out a faint outline of someone standing behind him in the shadows.
"Why the hell do you think? Because I'm dead too, nitwit." She stepped out a few feet and John could see a very attractive dark haired woman, maybe a few years older than himself, dressed in a hospital gown.
"So you know her, huh? Was she your girlfriend? She must have been distraught at your passing. Almost as distraught as he was," she said, nodding toward the gasping form on the bed.
"Is he your…"
"My grieving widower, Dr. Paul Reilly. Well, they say everyone copes with death in their own way."
"I'm sorry. So, how long have you been dead?" He felt weirdly like the conversation was taking on the casual tone of two business acquaintances chatting about their summer holidays.
"I think it's about a week or so. I've just been wandering around here watching people, wondering what happens next."
"I died today."
She gave him a funny look. "I hope it wasn't just today, because those two have been meeting in here and having it off for at least two days now."
"Oh. Maybe it's longer then, it's hard to keep track of the time. Although it wouldn't surprise me, she's a slut."
"So why did you get involved with her then?"
"Because she's a slut."
"Ah. I forgot, you're a man." There was a short awkward silence, and then she asked, "So how did you croak?"
"Um, well…I fell off a cliff." It felt weirdly like bragging.
"Really? Wow, that's really impressive. Very dramatic. Did it hurt?"
"Yeah, it hurt like a bastard, but not for long. How did you, uh…"
John winced. "Oh dear, those are meant to be very painful."
"It wasn't a picnic." Another silence, and while John was desperately trying to think of something deep and sympathetic to say to fill it, she again beat him to the punch.
"What's your name anyway? What was your name, I mean."
"John, John Robbins."
"Hi John Robbins, I'm Celia Reilly. I'd shake your hand except, well- we don't really have any hands, do we?"
John glanced over at the limp couple, still in the afterglow of their secret sex, and suggested, "Shall we get out of here, this is a bit depressing."
They walked back through the door and down the hospital corridor, where one youngish fella looked up from his determined stride and straight at them.
"Hiya, still here." Celia chirped at him, and he flicked his eyes at John. "Yep, found another friend too. He's better than that old crazy fart anyway." The young man grinned the smallest of grins and continued on his way.
"He could see us!" John exclaimed, turning to stare after him.
"Yeah, I told you some of them could."
"So what does happen now? Do we have to wander around here for all eternity or something? Is this purgatory, or hell or what?"
"Gee thanks, I'm not that bad for company, am I?"
"No, of course not…" John sputtered.
"I'm only teasing you, I know what you mean. Well, I don't know what happens after this, but I don't think we have to stay here forever, seeing as how if anyone who ever died here had to stay indefinitely we'd all be stacked up floor to ceiling by now, like Victoria Station at rush hour. I saw some other dead people when I first got here that don't seem to be around anymore, so I guess we go somewhere else eventually. I suppose there's like- a waiting list or something."
"You'd think there would be a lot more dead people here though, wouldn't you? They have to die by the dozens in here every day."
"Yeah, but some of them didn't take being dead as well as we have, and they're hiding in closets and stuff, blubbering away, and some of them don't seem to hang around at all after they die. Maybe they had reservations."
"I'm starting to think I should have gone to church more."
"I don't think that has anything to do with it. I saw a guy all covered with swastika tattoos pop his cogs from a stabbing and away he went, no waiting. I can't bring myself to believe anyone would find him a good candidate for heaven. Maybe he went straight to the other place. Who knows what they use for criteria though, the afterlife is probably as screwed up as the first one was."
"Jesus, now that is a truly depressing thought, that life after death is going to be just like standing in line to get your motor tax renewed. Only forever."
"So do you believe in heaven and hell John? What do you hope will happen to you when you finally get to leave the hospital? Rooms full of gorgeous naked women there only to do your bidding? A fleet of Ferraris in every color known to man? A desert isle all to yourself? What's heaven to you?"
"You know, right now I'd be ecstatic if I could have a big plate of Sunday Roast, a pint of stout, and a football match on the telly. I never realized how wonderful that was." He turned to Celia and asked her, "And what about you? Shopping at Harrod's for all eternity?"
"What a sexist remark, John Robbins!" she exclaimed, moving out of the way of a team of doctors and paramedics who were rushing down the hall with a limp form on a gurney. "I'm more of a Debenham's sort of girl." She grinned, and it struck John what a very attractive woman she was, in a khaki trousers and white cotton shirt sort of way. Not his usual type, but he supposed one couldn't be too choosy when one was dead.
"Seriously, what do you hope happens on the other side?" he prodded.
"I hope I get to see my baby. I was really looking forward to that."
It hit them both then, the real implications of their situation.
"Oh bugger it- we really are dead, aren't we?" she asked quietly. John just nodded.
They heard the steady whine of the heart monitor announcing its bad news, and watched as the specter of a middle aged man wearing only a pair of swimming togs came stumbling out of the exam room, looking dazed and puzzled. He tried to stop a few of the medical people who were hurrying by, and didn't seem to twig when his hands passed right through them, but grew steadily more agitated as he was ignored.
"Uh oh, this one is not going to take it well at all," Celia observed. The man saw the pair watching him and hurried over.
"Can you help me? Can you help me?" He asked frantically, waving him arms around and flapping his bare feet on the tile.
"Sure mate, what do you need?" John answered.
"I really need to call my office, I was having a swim at the gym when I got this funny pain in my chest, and then the ambulance brought me here. If I don't call them and tell them what's happened they'll be wondering why I haven't shown up."
"You know mate," John told him in a calm voice, "I don't really think you need to worry about it anymore, because they'll be advertising your job before the week is out anyway."
"What? What are you on about?"
"You're dead, mister." Celia added. "I would guess by what you said and the looks of you when they wheeled you by us that you had a heart attack in the pool and drowned. You get an unexpected, and permanent, holiday from work."
"You're both fucking barmy," the man announced, and trotted off down the hall in search of someone who could really help him.
"He is going to get one nasty shock when he tries to dial a phone,"
"Yep- he'll probably be a screamer," Celia agreed.
"A couple of them have taken it really hard and just started screaming when it hit them, and didn't stop until they went away to…wherever. Talk about nerve wracking- it even seemed to upset the live people."
John and Celia strolled the halls for a while, watching people go about their routines of saving people and doing all the bureaucratic business that keeps a hospital running. They wandered into a few rooms and observed people rejoicing and grieving, chatting, eating, watching telly, sleeping- all the things they could no longer do. They stood by while an orderly delivered the lunches to one ward, and Celia peered into the tray hungrily."God, even that crap looks good to me now."
At that moment an older woman in a severe business suit, tall and thin with short silver hair, carrying a clipboard in one large hand, came striding up to them. She had the same slightly out of focus look to her that they had themselves, so Celia and John knew that she wasn't one of the living."Celia Anne Reilly nee Cooper?" she barked.
The angel, who had been thumbing through the pages on her clipboard, looked up and said, "No, he's not one of mine. Maybe he belongs to Busby, he's been coping with a bad toxic chemical leak in Nepal or some God awful place. ANYWAY, not to worry, SOMEONE will be round for you directly young man. Just have a little PATIENCE won't you."
"I guess this is goodbye then," Celia said.
"I suppose so. Thanks so much for the conversation, you made being dead, well, not nearly so unpleasant as it could have been."
"Ditto. And…good luck. I hope you don't have too long to wait."
"Hmm, yes, so do I." Celia leaned over and whispered to him, "But when you look at what I've got for a Guardian ANGEL it really isn't surprising that it happened this way, is it?"
"I heard that," the Angel interjected.
"Goodbye then, John Gwenyth Robbins. Best of luck."
"Best of luck, Celia."
The two figures popped out of existence. John sighed and looked around at the people milling about the hallways and waiting room. The live people, who would go home to hot dinners and pints of stout and football on the telly. He began to feel depressed again, and from somewhere close by, he heard a man's voice yell- "BOLLOX!" and then begin to scream.
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