The Overpayment

“Thank you for calling Human Existence, my name is Afriel, how may I assist you today?”

“Hi, I received a notice today informing me that my LIFE (all in capital letters) under my current case will be DISCONTINUED (in capital bold letters) beginning September 10, 2022.”

“May I please have your name and LIFE Case Number for verification purposes?”

“My name is Jody Christensen but I don’t know my case number.”

“You will find your LIFE Case Number in the upper right-hand corner of the notice.”

“Are you talking about the symbols and squiggles? I can’t read those.”

“You can. It is the basis for all languages in the universe. All you need to do is look at sigils, soften your focus and let your subconscious do the rest.”

Jody sighed but she did as instructed and after a long moment, her mouth began forming shapes on its own accord and her vocal cords issued a series of squeaks and tones not heard since Existence was in its infancy.

“Thank you. One moment, please, as I take a look at your account,” Afriel said, and after a brief silence, returned to the line. “According to our records, the discontinuation of your LIFE Case is due to the fact that you have received LIFE as part of another Case. Notice of this LIFE change was sent to you under separate notice.”

“I received no such notice.”

“I do apologize for that. We can have the notice resent—”

“Can’t you just explain it to me while I have you on the phone?”

“Of course, one moment, please,” Afriel said over the sound of typing on a keyboard. “Here we go. It appears that your former LIFE case was closed when you choked on a piece of steak at 7:56pm on September 10, 2022. When you were revived, a new LIFE case was opened for you.”

“When I was revived? I remember choking at dinner but I performed the Heimlich—”

“Pardon me, but for legal reasons, it is now referred to as abdominal thrust.”

“Okay, then, I performed an abdominal thrust on myself and dislodged the food.”

“Be that as it may, our records indicate—”

“Your records are wrong. I was conscious the entire time, otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to perform the maneuver on myself.”

“I see,” Afriel said and after a lengthy silence, “Then that presents a new problem.”

“What sort of problem?”

“Well, if your former case was never closed—”

“If I didn’t die, you mean.”

“That is not a term we are allowed to use, Miss Christensen,” Afriel said. “If your former case was never closed, and you were issued a second LIFE case—”

“Yes?”

“That means you are in receipt of a LIFE overpayment.”

“I have an extra life? Like in a video game?”

“This is not a matter to be taken lightly, Miss Christensen. I need to advise you that if the overpayment is not paid back immediately, it will be referred for collection, and you do not want that, trust me.”

“What, are you going to send some repo man to take back the extra life?”

“Not a repo man, a reaper man. And I can guarantee it will not be pleasant.”

“But why is that necessary? This is your screw up! Why not just close the new case and cancel it out?”

“Because we cannot be certain that in canceling your new case, will not cancel you in the process, which would place our establishment in legal liability.”

“Well, before my account goes into repossession—”

“Reapersession.”

“Whatever, don’t I have the right to ask for a Conference or a Fair Hearing, or something if I don’t agree with your decision?

“A reapersession notice was automatically placed on your account the moment the LIFE overpayment was spotted. The only way to halt that process is to make immediate repayment.”

“But how do I do that? I can’t just shake extra life out of my pockets!”

“I cannot assist you in that matter, Miss Christensen. All I can do is inform you that if you are unable to make the repayment at this time, you will receive a notice indicating the date and time of a reaper’s arrival.”

“Let me speak to your supervisor.”

“I assure you that I am able to assist you with any concerns you might have.”

“You can’t stop a reaper from coming to steal my life from me so how the fuck are you able to assist me?”

“If you continue to use language like that, I will end this call. I am doing what I can to help you, but if you speak to me like that again, I will end this call.”

“I apologize. Can you please put your supervisor on the line?”

“I assure you that I am able to assist you with any concerns you might have.”

“Stop the customer service bullshit and put your supervisor on the phone! This is my fucking life we’re talking about here!”

Click.

“Hello? Afriel, are you there?”

Not. The. End.

ReFilling Emptiness

He sat by the window, his gaze meandering across the verdant countryside. Despite the pleasantness of the day, his disposition was anything but sunny.

“We need to talk,” said a voice behind him.

“Not in the mood for another of your lectures,” he said, not even bothering to look at her.

“I’m ending our contract,” she said.

This forced his head to turn, and a concern that rose to fear crossed his face. “Why?”

“You’re not living up to your end of the bargain.”

“I told you I just need a little time to adjust.”

“It’s been three years, I think I’ve been more than patient.”

“It’s not my fault that I still remember my last body and the life that came with it.”

“And it shouldn’t be my problem that you agreed to be ReFilled before you were ready.”

“You told me you loved this body.”

“I do. That body fits perfectly with me. Luckily your brooding hasn’t put too much wear and tear on it which is why I’m not asking for a RePlacement, just a ReFill.”

“So, you aim to keep the body, just not the person currently occupying it,” he shook his head. “I’ll appeal.”

“Your appeal grace period has passed. You had a six-month window, it’s been three years, remember?”

“I can try—try to be the man you want me to be, need me to be.”

“It’s too late for that. I’ve already filled out the paperwork. You’re being ReStocked tonight and I’ll have a brand new ReFill by morning. I thought I’d give you some time to prepare yourself. And don’t even think about being petty and damaging that body, self-harm restraints have been activated to prevent any vindictiveness.”

“Even if the safeguards weren’t in place, I wouldn’t have done that. I’m not a vindictive man.”

“I know. It’s just a precaution. None of this would have been necessary, you realize, had you just opened up to me.”

He considered that a moment before asking, “Have you ever been ReStocked?”

“No. Original body and soul going on forty years now.”

“Then you don’t know what it’s like, being ripped from a warm body and placed in any icy limbo queue with other souls who moan incessantly about the lives they left behind, on and on for what feels like an eternity, until the memory purge takes place and all the souls become ReConditioned and ReTurned to factory settings.

“But sometimes the process doesn’t work, sometimes a soul remembers what it had, what it lost.

“In my case, I had a wife who I loved more than anything in the world and two precious little girls who were carbon copies of their mother. I would have died to keep them safe, and I did.

“There was a break-in in my home, in my previous home. An intruder made a noise that woke the girls and the girls came and woke my wife and I. I told them to go to the bathroom, it’s the most secure room in the house, in case you didn’t know, and I told them to lock the door and stay there until I came to get them.

“There were no weapons in the house, my wife and I wouldn’t have a gun in the same house as curious children, but I played golf, I bet you didn’t know that about me, so armed with a golf club, I crept downstairs but I must have made a noise because the burglar was waiting for me with a gun. He shot me at point blank range and the gunshot made my girls scream.

“The burglar climbed the stairs and kicked at the bathroom door until it gave in. My wife put the girls in the bathtub and stood in front of them shielding them with her body as the burglar raised his gun…

“I pounced on him trying to wrestle the gun away. Ignoring the pain of my wound, I struggled with all my might to pull the gun muzzle away from my family and I managed to get the gun between us when it went off.

“The bullet killed the burglar, but his first shot and the excessively bleeding that followed proved to be my undoing.

“That’s why I couldn’t be what you wanted me to be, because in my mind I’m still married to a woman who has probably moved on, and I couldn’t bear to cheat on her. I would have traveled to them, my family, but it seems the memory purge was successful in wiping out their names and location. The memory fades slightly each day and my hope was that it would have faded enough to give you what you needed from this body, but it seems I’ve run out of time.”

“Why couldn’t you tell me all this before?” she asked.

“For fear you would have ReStocked me sooner.”

She took him by the hand and led him to the bedroom. The plan was to make their remaining time together pleasant for both of them but he wasn’t ready for that level of connection, so they climbed into bed and fell asleep in each other’s arms until day turned to night.

He woke to her nakedness. She was sitting astride him and to his bewilderment, he was naked too. Pinned beneath her, he closed his eyes and gave into her control of the situation but in his mind, he was with his wife, a woman whose name he could no longer recall and whose face was clouded like a steam-misted bathroom mirror.

After she reached the pinnacle and collapsed into his arms, he said, “You don’t look forty in the least.”

She raised herself on her elbows and pressed her lips to his but by that time the body that fit so well with her own was in the process of being ReFilled.

A Daughter’s Lament

It’s times like this, in the wee hours of the night that I wonder if it’s wrong that I love my mother? And that love is wrapped in tinfoil, placed in Tupperware, and buried deep in the soil of my soul, hidden with all the other loves I’ve had that I will never admit to, even under the threat of death.

The conflict comes from the fact that I shouldn’t love her at all. She tried to kill me three times, which is three times more than anyone on the planet, even my worst enemies. The first time was when she sought a medical option to terminate her pregnancy. For some reason, it hadn’t worked, and she was offered a surgical option but turned it down because she figured I was fighting to live. That’s what she always called me, her little fighter.

The second time was when I was a tween and she caught me stealing money out of her purse because I wanted to buy some stupid Woolworth’s lip gloss kit that all the popular girls were wearing, something I knew my mother would never have wasted money on. When she walked into the room, it took her a moment to process what she was seeing but the moment it clicked, she flew into a rage and lunged at me, catching me by the throat, and forcing me back toward an open window. We were poor, money stretched beyond snapping limit, so poor that we couldn’t even afford a window fan. Wide open windows without safety guards were our air conditioning during the summer months. And here I was, thinking only of myself and trying to appear cool to strangers that couldn’t have cared whether I lived or died. I thought about that as I was desperately clutching the window frame, trying to stop this five-foot, wiry berserker machine from shoving me six storeys down to the pavement below. When the rage eventually subsided and she pulled me into a hug, I realized I had learned a valuable lesson: Never steal from mom.

The third time happened the night before heading off to college. I was dreaming about floating in the vacuum of space without a spacesuit and not being able to breathe and I woke up to my mother straddling me, arms pinned to my sides, with a pillow pressed against my face. I wriggled and bucked frantically and fortunately threw her off before I lost consciousness.

I have never before told this to anyone, but I imagined if I had they would have told me what they would have done if they were in the same situation, but it was all hypothetical, reactionary nonsense, because the truth of the matter is that you never know what you’re going to do when the unexpected happens until you’re in the moment where you have to make a decision.

The truth is we sat there and said nothing to each other. My mother was on the floor crying into the pillow she tried to smother me with, and I sat on the bed trying to piece everything together, trying to find the logic of the situation, trying to rationalize my mother’s actions. Was she jealous because I was going to get out of a world she found herself trapped in? Was she afraid that I would leave and never come back and she couldn’t stand being alone? This is an answer that I will never get because after minutes turned into hours turned into the time to leave to catch my flight, I left. Never saying goodbye, never looking back, never contacting the police, never getting her the mental health she obviously needed, never speaking to her again.

Today I received a telephone call that my mother had passed away in a retirement home. My telephone number had changed several times since I walked out on my mother, always unlisted and I patrolled the internet to keep as much of my personal data personal, so how the home was able to reach me was anyone’s guess, but apparently, I was listed as next of kin.

After years of compartmentalization and tamping down every memory of her, now that she’s no longer alive, I think about her all the time and can’t stand it or the roiling shame spiral for all the birthday and Mother’s Day cards that were never sent and all the holiday home visits never made.

Now, I lay in the dark with a pillow pressed against my face, hot tears soaking the pillowcase, and I act out our final night together only with a different ending. I confess to her that I wish it wasn’t a secret that I love her. I apologize for being such a bad daughter. And I press the pillow hard against my nose and gasping mouth in a vain attempt to finish what she started.