A ballpoint pen tapped a staccato rhythm on the large oak desk. Thaddeus leaned back and sipped on coffee while waiting for his list of assignments. He had been doing this job for so long that apathy dominated most days. Many of his colleagues had moved to use laptops or phones. He preferred the feel of a pen in his hands. Moira would email him assignments, and he would check them on the phone. Then jot down his notes in a leather-bound journal.
No one saw each other anymore, and he missed those days. They used to get together in reverie to drink and party. He used to know the faces of the corporate office by heart. Now he wasn’t sure if he would recognize anyone, even if they were standing right next to him.
The ping of a new email jarred him back into reality. Before even opening the screen, he knew it was his daily assignment list. Today was a light load, with only two clients. Perusing the profiles, Thaddeus headed to the hospital first. As he hopped into his crystal black honda, he wondered if Carrie was busy. The year had been a crazy one, and to have only two clients was rare. Carrie got the troublesome cases. Her profiles were a bit more violent. She loved it, though, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The hospital halls were quiet as he weaved his way through crowds of doctors, nurses, and visitors. The fourth floor was for pediatrics and colorfully decorated. He slipped into the private room and saw a woman bent over the bed. Her shoulders were heaving as she cried into the still body lying there.
Above her, a young boy, no older than six or seven, was trying to comfort her. A flop of sandy hair fell over his eyes, and he looked slightly distraught that she was ignoring him. Thaddeus stood for a moment, watching the child before clearing his throat. The boy looked up, and their eyes met.
“Why won’t she talk to me?” He pleaded.
“She knows it’s your time to go and doesn’t want to let go,” Thaddeus whispered. He was always gentle with the young ones. He didn’t add that sometimes if the grieving accepted the death, they might even have a moment to see him escort his client away and know they would be okay. Such things rarely happened anymore. Most people could not accept death.
The boy nodded solemnly and turned to Thaddeus. “Where are we going?”
“Come with me, and you will see,” Thaddeus smiled and stretched his hand out. The boy bounced over, stopping briefly to pick up a ragged teddy bear.
They wound their way through downtown until they reached an unremarkable bus depot. The white paint on the walls was peeling slightly, and The few people around ignored each other. Thadeus led the child to an unmarked stall where a large silver bus was waiting.
“Sharon will take you to the retreat. It’s on an enormous lake. I think you will love it. Your Uncle Bill will be there to meet you after your ride.”
The broad grin that spread across the boy’s face disappeared as he stepped towards the bus. He backed away slowly, fear in his eyes.
“I have no money, and she looks grumpy,” he whispered.
Thaddeus gestured to the bear in the boy’s hand, “Has to be something you cherish.”
A tear slid down the cheek of the child as he handed Sharon the bear. She smiled at him, and
the boy forgot his fears as he raced into her arms.
Not stopping to watch the bus depart, Thaddeus headed back to his car. The next stop was a young woman that hadn’t seen her thirtieth birthday. It surprised him to see another profile so young. Often the young were resistant and ended up with Carrie.
He parked in the lot and hiked down a forested trail. Before long, he came upon a young woman gazing contemplatively at the crumpled body lying at the bottom of the tree. She was the most radiant thing he had ever seen. Her sapphire eyes calmly met his as she instinctively brushed a stray lock of hair from her face.
“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” she giggled.
For once in his existence, Thaddeus stood dumbfounded. The woman waved her hand in front of his eyes.
“You CAN see me, right? The last couple of people just kept walking. I thought I was invisible at first; until I saw my body.”
Thaddeus came to his senses and nodded. “Ya, I see you.”
He tried to smile, but his face wouldn’t seem to work. It just scrunched into some sad sort of grin.
“Hey?” She asked, “you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine.” He answered eventually. “I’m your ride.”
She starred at him, and all he could see was the radiant glow of her face. This woman looked like an angel, and nowhere in his eternity had he met the like.
“Will you help me before we go?” she asked. “I hate to see my body crumpled so, and I can’t seem to move it myself. There is a blanket in my pack. Maybe you can cover it up?”
It was against the rules to touch the bodies. Thaddeus’s only job was to guide the souls to Sharon, but what could it hurt? He gently straightened the body, brushing the hair from its face, and healed the bruising from the fall. After placing the blanket over her, he reached his hand out to the woman standing next to him.
“I’m Min, by the way.” She smiled brightly.
“Thaddeus,” He replied.
They made their way back to the car, chatting like dear old friends that had known each other forever. Each moment they spoke, Thaddeus felt more connected to her. It wasn’t unheard of to fall in love with the clients. He was pretty sure many of the higher-ups in corporate had more dalliances with humans than he could count on his fingers. Usually, it was before they made their way to the lake retreat, but he could make it work.
“Min?” he asked as they slipped into his Honda. “I usually just drop you off at the bus stop, but your my last profile of the day, would you like me to take you to the lake myself?”
Her entire face lit up as she bounced in her seat. “I couldn’t think of anything better!”
As they pulled into the driveway in front of the cabin, Min squealed with delight.
“This is beautiful! Is it all mine?”
Thaddeus blushed. “It is. Maybe I could come to visit you sometime?”
She nodded excitedly and wrapped her arms around him, kissing his cheek softly. “I would love for you to visit. Will you show me around?”
He nodded and took her hand. As they reached the entrance, the door swung open on its own accord. “My lady,” he beckoned.
Min poked her head in the door and looked around. “I’m a little frightened. I’ve never died before. Will you go first?”
Without a thought, Thaddeus stepped inside. As quick as lightning, Min snicked the door shut behind him. His face went white as he realized there was no escaping the cabin.
“What have you done?” He whispered.
“I’m sorry, sweetie, I truly am. You were lovely, but it’s not my time to go. I hope you understand.”
Trying the door and finding it stuck fast, he hung his head in shame. Thaddeus could hear footsteps fade and the sound of his car pulling away.
“What have I done?” he said to no one in particular.
“Can someone give me a read on what is happening,” A man’s voice boomed. His chiseled face was muscular, with an artfully trimmed beard. “Why the hell are there spirits wandering around everywhere?”
A slender woman’s bosom displayed on the meeting screen.
“I hunted down the problem,” her voice hummed.
“Aria!” Another face flashed across the screen, “Fix your camera. As lovely as your breasts are, we would prefer to see your face.”
“Oh, sorry,” Aria chuckled, “still getting used to new tech. It appears a young lady, Min, trapped our dear Thaddeus in her cabin, then hopped back into her body.”
A new face popped into existence. The matriarch was stern, and her angry eyes narrowed. “Then we must take care of this immediately. Send Carrie to kill her. Make it messy.”
The first man spoke. “Oh dear, let’s not be so hasty. Her guile earned her a few more years, don’t you think?”
“Oh, so you can sleep with her? I don’t think so!” The angry woman retorted.
“Fine, fine,” said the man. “Let’s send Herman. He can let poor
Thaddeus out and be the one to deal with Min. That’s it. See you all next time.”
The man turned away from the screen and hummed a little song as he gazed lustfully at an image of Min.
“Uh, sir?” Aria said sweetly, “you need to end the meeting.”
50 YEARS LATER
As Min rested on the park bench, a handsome man approached her. She looked down at her hands, weathered and worn, remembering the time when she was young and beautiful. Life had been good to her, and now her children and grandchildren are grown. Most days felt lonely, but she was content.
“I expected someone soon, but I assumed it would be Thaddeus,” she said to the man.
He flashed a bright smile at her. His curly blond hair seemed to move with the wind as he ran a hand through it.
“They sent me instead. Thaddeus opted to skip this one,” The man gave her a wink and held out his hand. “Ready?”
As they touched, she felt herself shift into youth. She didn’t give her old body a second glance as they were transported to a large office building.
“I suppose the lake retreat is no longer an option?” She asked.
The gorgeous man shook his head and showed her a door. “You have a task to complete first. Meg is your supervisor, and your work is on the desk.”
Min sighed as she walked into a small office. There were no windows or doors, aside from the one she had entered. It smelled like an old tuna sandwich mixed with dirty socks. Ugh. A box of files sat on a large oak desk, labeled “Complaints.”
I just need to get through these. Then I can go to the lake retreat.
A large woman walked in with a scowl on her face. “Make sure you resolve each case, okay, my pet?”
Min rolled her eyes and nodded. Piece of cake. She could talk her way through anything. Picking up the first file and dusting it off, she read the complaint. It was going to be a long day.
TEN YEARS LATER
The last file felt light in her hands. Years passed without event as she had toiled away on these complaint files. She stamped the final one “complete” with a joyful smile.
“Meg!” she shouted to her supervisor. “I’m done! How do I get to the lake retreat?”
Meg strolled into the room with a wicked grin. Instead of answering, she pointed to a door that Min had not noticed before. Finally, she was going to be free!
Her legs felt stiff as she stood and made her way to the door. She didn’t bother looking back at the box that took her so long to finish. It was no longer her concern. Min opened the entrance, awaiting the fresh breeze that the lake would offer, and dust blasted her face.
Coughing, she wiped her eyes and looked around. A great library spread before her that must have been the size of a football field. Shelves reached the ceiling stacked full of boxes. Each one is labeled “Complaints.”