Dead Guy Gets Waylaid In The Afterlife

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Caleb woke up in an office. It was an office that, over the course of a few years, would drive a working man mad. It was just large enough to give the impression of freedom, and just boxy enough to knock that impression in the teeth and then stomp on its nose. When Caleb first opened his eyes, the ordinary white rectangles of ceiling tile made a soothing and regular pattern; the coarse carpet beneath his hair scratched at him, and the afternoon sunlight drifting hazily through the blinds of the window made the lazy dust motes over his head hang maddeningly in the air. Caleb swiped at the dust; the particles swished to one side before returning, like tiny, determined homing pigeons, to their original places.

“Horrible dust,” Caleb muttered, and sat up.

He could not remember where he had been just before this; the slapping of water against the side of the boat, and the spray of the lake in his hair hovered tantalizingly at the edge of his mind. He could not remember where he had been. The office was foreign to him; he could draw no picture of remembrance into his brain. The smell of the cheap carpeting, mixed with the low hum of central air, and the quiet rustle of paper and footsteps on either side of the thin walls, rang no memorial bells in Caleb’s mind. He was alone, in an office, and he did not know how he had gotten there.

Caleb fixed his mind on remembering where he had been. He did not panic; his pulse did not beat any quicker, and his eyes did not dart with fearful trepidation through the contents of the room. He looked about himself slowly, thoroughly, making notes of each piece of furniture and its quality and shape, like a lawyer watching the face of a key witness. Caleb watched the ceiling tiles, and the way they met against the walls of the room; his eyes travelled gradually down the grey painted walls of the office, and rested at last on the rubber edging that had been pasted around the base of the room. The walls, the ceiling, and the material of the rubber that kissed against the coarse carpet all around the room contributed to the same picture: that of an office that so closely resembled the idea of an average that it failed to contain hardly any identifying marks of its own. It was, as Caleb’s friend Joseph would have said in a low grumble, “An office for the ages.” Joseph, who was Caleb’s first and last business partner, and the holder of the record for ugliest office lived in consecutively for the most years, had never allowed his office the moniker of “office for the ages.” This title, however, Joseph had bequeathed, with some fondness, on the office next door to their own suite of rooms.

Caleb thought for a moment that he was in his old building, but a cursory examination of the carpeting and walls negated this possibility; Caleb’s building had been cheap, but it had not been shoddy, and this office was, in unison with its boringness, quite shoddily constructed.

An edging of terror crept into Caleb’s heart. He began to wonder if he had been kidnapped or abducted. He could not imagine why anyone would desire him as a victim of abduction, but the strangeness of his surroundings to him, and his inability to remember what had occurred just before he had woken in this office, joined together to make an ominous cloud of threatening possibilities. This threatening cloud hovered strangely about in Caleb’s heart; he did not think he had been kidnapped, and he did not feel himself in danger, really, but as he searched through the archives of his experience, his mind zipping down through the months and years and pictures like a driving cleaver, he could find nothing similar to this, no hint of context to give him a clue as to the meaning of his waking here. Caleb was not afraid, not yet, but the possibility of fear was there, and the possibility of terror raised the hairs on the back of his hands.

A shallow clicking noise made itself known in his ears; Caleb jumped, and looked around. A large, white-faced clock was hung on the wall behind Caleb, its long black hands fixed firmly over the numbers that rimmed it round. Caleb studied this clock for a whole minute before he could make sense of its symbols; the numbers, he found, were backwards. The six was at the top of the clock, where the twelve should be, and the three had changed places with the nine.

Caleb stood up and approached this clock. It did not appear to be an extraordinary clock. Indeed, Caleb was sure that he had seen a very similar clock very recently, in a party store, or on the beach, or in the house of his young lover. Caleb closed his eyes, and recalled these places. He imagined himself standing in the store; he remembered the smell of cheap plastic, and the pink curls of trick candles. He had been there with Monique, and she had pointed out plates that had clock faces on them. These clocks, he saw in his memory, had normal faces, with the numbers in the proper places. Next, he turned his inner vision to the beach. What, he asked himself calmly, had a clock been doing at the beach? A white ship, in the shape of a short yacht, rose up in his inner eye.

“She’s called The Clock Face,” Caleb heard Monique’s father saying in his mind. Caleb looked through himself, but he could find no actual clock face upon the boat, or anywhere else on the beach. Finally, Caleb examined what he remembered of Monique’s house; she had kept a soft pink face clock, he realized, at the back of her dresser. The hands did not work, and were frozen in a position similar to the hands of the backwards clock within this office.

Caleb opened his eyes and examined the large white clock face anew. The soft click-click-click of the whip-like second hand sounded like thunder within the walls of the plain grey office.

Caleb was sure that he was not dead. His mind was like a camera, and like a flexible, powerful cord that tied together every memory he held within his body and brain. His body remembered things; his skin in particular kept a living file of every sensation he had ever come against in his life. His library of memories was thronging long and wide around him, the shelves of his interior experience open to his reaching mind. Caleb had decided, long ago, when he was still a child, that when his library closed off to him, he would be dead. He was sure now that wherever he was, and whatever was actually happening within him, he was not dead. He was so sure of this that the strange echo within the office walls made no meaningful impact on his consciousness, and the curiously relaxed feeling within his joints and between his shoulder blades he tucked away, as an effect of his inability to know where he was right away. If Caleb had been a superstitious man, the licking of water against his recent memory, and the slipping, sliding feeling of seeping water that still clung to his fingers, and to the ends of his toes, would have impressed itself more forcefully upon his present self.

You’re reading the opening scene from this book. I’m Victor Poole, and I’m angry right now. Friday is a great day to think vindictive thoughts.

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