The Other Side
by Michael S. Collins
(Previously published in 2013)
“Is there a Mr Williams here?” asked the nurse.
An old man rose to his feet unsteadily on two walking sticks.
“You are wanted in Séance Booth Four” said the nurse.
The old man hobbled over to the telephone booth, answering the phone. He was one of these deaf types, who speak loud enough for the entire waiting room to overhear their conversation.
“Yes, this is Williams” he said.
“A message? Yes, tell them I have a message for Marjorie.” A longer pause. Jim could hear the high-pitched screaming from the other end of the line before it went dead. Williams turned back to the others.
“It was a wrong number.” He said. “And they called me fake!”
Jim didn’t know how long he’d been delayed. Not nearly the four months he’d been dead, but it felt close enough. It wasn’t just the probationary period before announcing yourself on the dearly undying, but the wait for them to try and summon you troubled early haunters. Moreover, some of the surviving loved ones never got the bloody hint. Luckily, Jean – Jim’s one time wife of twenty years – had been such a fascinated follower of the occult, she had ordered him to show up after his death on his own deathbed.
Jim sat in the nearest corner of the Séance Waiting Room, just before the curtain which separated it from the Apparitions Waiting Room. Poking his head behind the curtain, he could see a gaggle of excited Murderous Wraiths patiently on hold for their time to go back down to Earth.
“Hello Jim” said a friendly voice. “Still lingering to hear from Jean?”
“Well, shouldn’t be too long now, hopefully. I’m quite jolly myself. Had word I’m going down tonight.”
“The very same.” The bloodstained banshee smiled triumphantly. “Some kids have been playing with an Ouija Board in my old Attic. You might see some of them in that waiting room before long.”
The bloodstained banshee sighed.
“You don’t seem to enjoy it very much” said Jim.
“Well, you know. A jobs a job at the end of the day. Eventually every demonic murder roles into one in my memory. Jobs changed too, you know.”
“Aye, in the old days, well, I don’t like to call them the good old days, but we had a routine. The jist is still the same: spare one member of the group to tell the tale. More folk who tell the tale, more idiots go looking to see if its true, more work for me, you see. But in those days, we had to spare the virtuous girl. Course, nowadays, that’s not political correct, and everyone is far freer. So I had to adapt.”
“How did you do that?”
“Well, I still let one survive. But I work out with a particular method.”
The bloodstained banshee started humming Mary Had a Little Lamb while pointing at each other spirit in the room in turn per line.
“You see? Last person I point at is done in. Eventually someone hasn’t been pointed at, and they have a lucrative career writing true crime stories. Or wind up in a sanatorium. Or, in one sad case, executed for it. I buggered that one up.”
The bloodstained banshee pointed at what looked to be a young girl, minus her head.
“Her though, you’ve got to watch her.” He said. “Jim, she’s new to the job. Can’t wait to go around killing some teenagers. Giddy with excitement.” He sighed. “I had that once. “
They watched a ghoul with a scheming face leave the waiting room.
“He’s new,” said the phantom. “Haven’t seen him here before.”
A bell rang.
“Looks like I’m needed. Best of luck in biding time.”
And before he knew it, Jim was alone again.
He didn’t have much time to be alone in his misery, however.
“Is there a Jim here? Jim Frazer?” asked the nurse. Jim signalled he was. “Service Booth Three, please, a woman wants you.”
With his spirits rising, Jim swept towards the Booth. No sooner was he in, when those spirits fell. The voice he listened to most certainly was not his wife. She sounded too old.
“Is that you, Ted?” said the old voice. “Please be, Ted? I’ve waited so long.”
Jim rose up the courage to tell her of her mistake, when he stopped.
“This is Ted.” He said. He could barely believe the words had come out of his own mouth.
“Ted! Oh, Ted, I’m so happy to hear you. Hang on, what did you tell me you’d say if this happened? So I’d know it was you?”
Jim wracked his mind, and took a guess. “I love you?”
“It is you!”
And Jim spent ten minutes listening to an old lady mistaken in his identity, but who seemed to be getting a decades old burden lifted from her being. Besides, she would meet Ted again, what with there being an afterlife and all. And he’d meet Jean too, if he was unlucky enough.