A few years back, I wrote this short story and I wanted to serialize it on the blog. I was spending a lot of time thinking of death and the afterlife, mainly because my father was sick. I hope to get the story published one day but, in the meantime, I wanted to share it with the world.
“There is No Death” is about a priest named Bernie Curran who has a number of strange encounters with a man who claims to be from The Other Side. Without ado, here’s Part 1 of the story:
“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word.” -C.S. Lewis
During mass, Father Bernie Curran sees a lost soul wearing a Metallica shirt with a grimy beard and hair down to his shoulders. He looks like a homeless Rip Van Winkle. Curran is feeling out of sorts, but he makes up his mind he’ll approach the man. It’s his job, of course, to welcome all types who wander into his dying parish.
When people file out, the man has vanished like a ghost.
“Did you see where that bearded young man went?” Father Curran asks another priest.
“I didn’t see anyone like that.” The priest looks at him funny.
“He sat in the front pew. He had a black shirt and long hair.”
“Are you seeing things, Bernie?” The priest gets pulled into another conversation, leaving Curran standing there like he’s lost in a subway station.
Curran puts on a good face and shakes hands with people as they leave. When everyone is gone and the church is cleaned, he walks to the rectory, lost in thought. The church bells echo over the grounds as Curran limps up the walkway on his old, creaky knees. There, on the rectory’s porch, he sees the Van Winkle-looking man, Budweiser in hand.
“May I help you?” Curran asks.
“I’m here to help you, actually,” the man replies.
Van Winkle holds out his hand. “I’m Shawn Getz. I’m with the U.S. Department of Death and the Afterlife.”
What in God’s name? Curran thinks. He shakes Van Winkle’s hand to make sure it’s real. The warts on the man’s palm feel real enough. “Do you need guidance, son?”
“Not exactly. Do you want to sit down?”
Curran takes a seat, and Van Winkle does, as well. “You know you look remarkably like Rip Van Winkle,” Curran says. “Can I call you that?”
“You can call me whatever you want.”
“So what do you need?”
“There’s no easy way to put this,” Van Winkle says after a sip of beer. “I’m here to help you transition to the afterlife.”
Curran laughs. “I’m not interested in planning my funeral if that’s what you’re selling. And I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.”
“Well, you should. You’re going to die in two months. It’s my job to ensure you make a smooth transition to the Other Side.”
Curran would usually suspect mental illness after a statement like this. He’s heard it in conversations with congregants before. But this man speaks with confidence, and his dark brown eyes are calm – not wide and crazed like he’s witnessed in the psychiatric ward patients he’s spoken to so many times before.
“Your job?” Curran says, finally.
“Yes. I’m with the Delaware County Office of Transitional Affairs. It’s a lot to take in, I know. Stick with me.”
“Explain to me then. How do I die?”
Van Winkle finishes the beer and crushes the can with his foot. The can scrapes the pavement and jolts Curran’s nerves. “Heart attack. We can’t say exactly what day, but it’ll be within two months. That’s according to our reports, anyway.”
Curran stares at Van Winkle, trying to process the man’s strange comment. He remembers what an old priest taught him about compassion many years ago. “What reports? I’m lost here, Mr. Van Winkle.”
“It’s hard to explain.” Van Winkle leans forward, and Curran can smell a mix of booze and body odor. “There is no death, father. In two months, you’ll be working with me. We try to get in touch with future employees as soon as possible.”
Curran sits back in the rocking chair and smiles. He’s had unusual encounters with congregants before, but this is especially weird. “There is death. I see it every day. It’s ludicrous to say otherwise.”
Van Winkle smiles, flashing stained, yellow teeth. “You see one side of it. You’ll see the other side soon enough.”
“That’s enough,” Curran snaps. “If you need help, call the church and we can talk. Otherwise, this conversation is over.”
Van Winkle stands and reaches into his pocket. He pulls out a business card and hands it to Curran. “The first conversation is always confusing. Call if you have any questions. I’m sure you will.”
Curran takes the card and shows Van Winkle off the rickety porch. “OK, Mr. Van Winkle. I hope to see you at mass again.”
The bearded man pulls out another beer from his cargo pants and cracks it open. “Maybe,” he says. “See you around dodge, Bernie.”
Van Winkle walks down the driveway and out of sight. Sure enough, the business card says: Shawn Getz, Transitional Officer, Delaware County Office of Transitional Affairs.
Curran smiles and puts the card in his pocket. He walks into the rectory for his afternoon prayer, feeling dazed. He would pray for the bearded man who left the crushed can of Budweiser on his porch.
To Be Continued …