When you die you are informed that in order to pass over to the afterlife you must first guide the new incarnation of yourself to do better than you did. You must be your very own guardian angel.
It’s been 12 years, 17 days and 49 seconds since you died — that’s right, you’re dead. It was a quick death from what you can last remember; the horn blaring, lights blinding, and instantly you ceased to exist. During your 32 years of life you never really bothered forming an opinion of what life after death looked like, but it sure didn’t seem like this was going to be it.
You sighed watching Rebecca, your reincarnation, gossip about Ann and her terrible fashion sense. The scale above your timer tipped to the left. Middle school children were the worst.
“Again?” you groaned in frustration. She put an arm against the back of your seat, her tennis racquet dropping to the ground.
The guy next to you laughed, Daniel, strided over. “At this rate my kid is going to be bringing us all to the City.” He looked down at you two, adjusting his jacket. “My kid’s only created a nonprofit organization for helping the homeless receive health care.”
“Arrogant son-of-a … ” You stopped yourself from letting that thought out. “Your reincarnation is 40 years old Daniel, it’s not fair to compare a child to an adult. Give her time; she’ll get there.” The scale dipped left as Rebecca poured rotting milk into her sister’s chocolate milk. That kid had to prove you wrong at every turn, didn’t she?
You really were starting to believe Arjun’s theory that Rebecca was a demon spawn. Daniel glanced at your screen and nodded with pity. “Sure, of course,” he said with a sneer.
Suddenly, bells rang out from what had just happened to Daniel’s kid; his scale had tipped over significantly to the right. We all watched as his reincarnation pushed aside a construction worker from the weak floor he was on. His reincarnation tumbled off and the screen went black.
“We’re going home boys!” Daniel said, his past lives cheering. The door at the back of the room opened up and they all filed toward it disappearing, not one of them looking back. In Daniel’s place was a frail looking guy, who blinked around confused. The screen turned back on again to a crying baby.
You looked toward the outline of the door long closed. “You think that’s going to be us someday?” you asked Areli, a guardian next to you. You both heard a soft ping as the scale tipped right. Rebecca helped a toddler from off the floor where he tripped. “I think so.” Areli shrugged, pulling out her hair from the ponytail she had it in. “Can we switch?” she asked in response.
You stretched your legs as you walked toward the common area, where everyone’s past lives killed time. At least whoever made this system was nice enough to make sure you weren’t bored. You slid in next to Baako who was slamming buttons on a PS4 controller. Red splattered the screen. He handed you another controller. “You know I suck at his game.” The Mortal Kombat logo flashed fading to the story’s introduction. He nudged me, smirking as he handed me the controls. “And you’re going to keep sucking at it if you don’t play with the best.”
You retorted, “I just think you like winning.” Baako chuckled as he chose Scorpion, while you went with Sub Zero, the best character you could button mash with; but your focus teetered between the door and the game. You glanced over its outline, so casually blocked by the pool of players on the floor. It seemed everyone else had already forgotten about the door.
“What do you think is in there?” you asked Baako as he carried out a Fatality. He stopped his gloating following your stare, shrugging as he answered, “I don’t know. Another round?”
“Doesn’t it bother you, that we’re here just doing nothing, while something is beyond us, just out of reach? Something maybe better than this?” Baako sighed, putting down his controller. “This isn’t so bad. It’s fun here. Look at everything we have. In life I would have killed to have this kind of wealth.” He gestured around to people laughing, talking over games and sports and some reading books or doing puzzles.
“But there had to be more to death than this,” you thought. You could only focus on the door, but more so on the new guy that had taken Daniel’s place. He was wandering around, dazed and alone, weaving like a wayward tennis ball through the crowd, as invisible as the door to the City.
“We should help that poor kid out,” you said. You both head over to the guy. From up close you realize he is younger than you thought he was. He looked 17 and was badly hurt. Blood from the gash on his head had dripped onto his glasses, his shirt soaked through and one shoe on his other foot bare.
You stopped in front of him, hands on his shoulders. His focus snapped to you, his hands going immediately for your face. He laughed. “This is the weirdest dream I’ve ever had.” He squished your cheeks. Baako snorted, muffling his laugh at your glare. You grab his hands putting them down. You had been as out of touch as this new reincarnation cycle; you probably looked as cut up as he did when you first got here. You did the same thing that someone had done for you.
The kid stared at his reflection from the dark screen of Baako’s monitor. The wound on the kid’s forehead faded as the realization hit him. He pushed in a thumb on the bloodsoaked part of his shirt. “This should hurt … ” Baako gently took his hand away. “What’s the last thing you remember?” he asked the lost soul.
He took the kid to one of the gaming couches. Kendrick, one of Baako’s past lives, scooted over without looking up from his game. If you hadn’t been staring at the monitor you wouldn’t have noticed the right tilt of the scale. It was subtle. It shouldn’t have moved, you thought. Baako and Kendrick’s current reincarnation was asleep. Baako was holding the kid as he cried, though Kendrick gave you a glance as if to say that kid was so annoying.
Maybe that was the problem. You and the other lost souls had spent so much of your lives looking out for yourselves, that almost everyone forgot about looking out for one another; everyone except Baako. The scale’s arrow teetered slightly and settled. You tap Baako’s shoulder, pointing to the scale. He smiled a bit at the centimeter crawl it made to the right, and glanced at the door.