My journal slid off my chest and hit the floor by my hand. I had apparently been sleeping. Well, sort of. I suppose dead people can’t really “sleep” in the traditional sense of the word. Yet here I am, with bloodshot eyes and drool gelling to the corners of my mouth trying to figure out why I’m stuck in Limbo. I won’t lie, I don’t really know what or where Limbo is or I would obviously tell you. It isn’t really a place, I guess, but a state of being somewhere between alive and dead. Other than that, you’re still pretty much functioning the same way you were before, minus eating, pooping, and interacting with living people. I have to admit, I miss the first one the most.
Shortly after I died, I saw my grandpa. Apparently, there’s a theory some folks have about Limbo. Basically, for someone to die completely, two things have to happen: 1) You have to leave your body. By “you” I mean all of your thoughts, memories, feelings- anything stored up in that brain has to be released so your brain can become a pile of dry, shriveled tissue. 2) Someone has to say your name for the last time ever. Obviously this step takes a little bit more time. The average is about fifty years. People like Michelangelo, Einstein, Ghandi… yeah, those guys will probably never leave Limbo. But for someone like me… well, it really doesn’t make much sense why I’m still here.
I carry my journal around religiously. I’d been writing in it shortly before the accident that killed me and for some reason I was able to retrieve it. I suspect it was such an ingrained part of my being that it was allowed to come with me. I can’t rewrite, erase, or add anything in it, though. That would change my life history and, since I’m not technically alive anymore, physics would never allow it. Physics DOES allow for my still-very-real journal hitting the floor to make a very-real sound in the natural world. I found this out the hard way the day after I died. So, this poses a problem if I drop it with people around. Luckily, over the last 86 years of being dead, I’ve gotten pretty good at sleeping in places where I won’t get noticed. For example, this morning I woke up under an exit sign in the Smithsonian before opening. Yeah, I’m pretty much living the life.
There were photos and replicas on display everywhere, since, you know, it’s a museum. As I sat up and peered around to make sure no one had heard, my eyes met one exceptionally large display with a bunch of extinct species of fish. I smiled to myself at the thought of swimming with these ginormous monsters. I could only think of one person who would have the balls to do such a thing: Carter. He was my driver the night we crashed. In fact, his fascination with fish was partly the reason he got gangrene and lost his leg. Which was the reason he has a prosthetic leg. Which was the reason he crashed the truck. I frowned at the fish.
One of the things they don’t tell you when you sign up to be a firefighter is that you will probably not die a hero. You probably won’t even die from cancer. The most likely causes of death for a firefighter are a) off-duty heart attacks and b) car accidents. We had landed the engine on its passenger side, so Carter was alright. On the other hand, my neck had been snapped from the impact of hitting the window and then smashed in by the fallen radio and computer systems that rode in between us. The bogus part is that our accident was on the way back from a call. We didn’t even have lights and sirens going. My death was a total dud.
As I was squinting up at my makeshift nightlight gleaming “EXIT”, there was whistling. It was pleasant, old-man whistling coming from the cardigan-wearing custodian at the end of the hall. I’d seen him a few times since I started coming here to find out how to leave Limbo. If my grandpa is right, then I’m only waiting on someone to say my name for the last time. I reached down to feel around for my journal. After 86 years, I can’t shake the feeling that that “someone” lied in its pages. My fingers ran back and forth over the tile floor- my journal had disappeared. I shot up at the sight of the custodian holding it over the trashcan.
“Tallie Woods.” He said to himself.
Everything went black.