The Judas Goat
by Roy Dorman
“So, how do you like being dead so far?”
Tony Brady turned to look where the question had come from and saw a woman sitting on the check-out counter of the little shop he had stopped to visit. It was a used book and record store he had often frequented when he had been alive. Before he had died. He was still having trouble getting used to that. Being dead.
The clerk behind the counter didn’t seem to be aware of either he or the woman on the counter. Then it clicked; the woman on the counter was dead too.
“It’s better than nothing,” Tony answered and then chuckled at the look on the apparition’s face. “Ya see, I thought that when I died, there would be, ya know, just nothing. Lights out, the party’s over.”
“Well, you got part of it right; the party’s over,” said the woman, sort of levitating down from the counter. “It did probably make things a little smoother for you when you ended up sorta here but not really here. Some folks have a rough time at first. Some try to kill themselves if you can believe that. I’m Mandy, by the way; you?”
“Tony Brady. Are ya supposed to say I am Tony Brady, or I was Tony Brady?”
“Well, since I’m Mandy Crenshaw, I guess I wouldn’t say I am or was Tony Brady, would I?”
“Well, at least you have a sense of humor about the whole thing. I’m kinda bummed.”
“You do know about the reincarnation labs, don’t you?” asked Mandy. “There’s one every mile or so in any direction in the bigger cities like this one; fewer of them out in the boonies.”
“Yeah, I picked up one of the pamphlets on the street. After I read a little bit of it I wondered what live people thought about the labs. Then I realized it was a ghost pamphlet and only deaders could see it. Have you seen one of the labs; are they, ya know, real?”
“Oh, they’re real all right,” said Mandy. “They’re physical; they have mass. It seems the scientists weren’t telling us everything they could do back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. These labs are invisible to live folks because they’re located in another dimension. Not another dimension like far, far away, but rather another dimension right next to us; a parallel universe like ol’ Lovecraft used to write about.”
“And you can go there and just start over?” asked Tony. “Sounds easy enough; why haven’t you done it yet?”
“Well, I’ve only been dead for a couple of weeks,” said Mandy. “I’m still checking out my options. I haven’t talked to a lot of people who have been just hanging out, though. I guess it must get a little boring not being part of the action. Sorta like watching one of those reality TV shows. You either go to one of the labs or amuse yourself by being a spectator.”
“The few times I thought about reincarnation when I was alive was to fantasize about coming back rich and famous,” said Tony. “I mean, I didn’t really believe in reincarnation, it was just daydreaming. I suppose everybody does that at some time or another.”
“Let’s walk to the nearest lab,” said Mandy, taking Tony’s arm. “There’s no obligation to decide anything right away; you can just go in and look around. Even sit in on a seminar or two. Ya know what I heard is one of the more popular choices?”
“No, what’s that? Movie star? Rock star?”
“Well, I’m sure those are right up there, but a surprising number of clients choose to come back as writers.”
“Really? I wonder… Oh, yeah, writers make a lot of money too, right?” said Tony.
“Good writers make a lot of money, Tony,” sighed Mandy. “Only really, really good writers make a lot of money. Come on, let’s go.”
When they got to the lab, an imposing three-story brick building about four blocks from the record store, Mandy held the door for Tony. “After you,” she said.
Tony stepped through the door and Mandy slammed it shut behind him. “What the hell?” said Tony as he found himself in complete darkness, unable to open the door and get back out.
The darkness around him was such that he had no idea how big the room was or if anyone else was in there with him. “Hello?” he called. Nothing.
There was a light in the distance. If the light was small, the distance could have been thirty feet away. But if it was big, as Tony thought it was, it could be a mile or more away. It looked like fire. Shrugging, Tony started toward it.
“Well, I guess Mandy was telling the truth about the scientists not telling us everything,” mumbled Tony. “And I guess I was right about the party being over.”
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Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and is the submissions editor of Yahara Prairie Lights. He has had poetry and flash fiction published recently in Burningword Literary Journal, Flash Fiction Press, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, One Sentence Poems, Birds Piled Loosely, and a number of other print and online magazines.