“Unbelievable.” Holly Evans shook her head as she peered down through the glass window to the scene below. That was the problem with an open casket. It meant everyone’s last memories of her would be with a white puffy face, the wrong color lipstick and a dreadful polyester dress. They always said the camera added five pounds to you, but no one ever talked about how fattening embalming fluid was, did they?
“What?” Holly kept her eyes focused on the service. “Oh, sorry. It’s hard to be quiet when I have to look at myself getting buried in that outfit. I’m only twenty-two. So much to live for, yet there I am. Dead. You know I don’t like to kick up a stink, but I most certainly didn’t die of natural causes.”
There was another angry hiss from behind her, which Holly ignored. She’d been ignoring a lot of things since she’d died two weeks ago. And it had to be said that heaven wasn’t nearly as much fun as she had been led to believe. All the rules for a start.
And where were the fluffy clouds and peeled grapes? To be honest the place looked more like Terminal Two at LAX than a celestial paradise. She pressed her nose up to the glass again. Here came the speeches.
Holly sniffed as she listened to Gemma’s glowing tribute. Of course she knew her best friend would come through for her.
“And look at how everyone is crying,” she said to no one in particular. “I’m really touched. Perhaps the dress wasn’t such a bad choice after all?”
Now it was Todd’s turn to speak and if she didn’t know better, she would say his eyes looked a bit moist as well. They had been dating almost a year and he hadn’t even shed a tear when he broke his leg in three places while playing football. Yet there he was crying over her.
It just made Holly feel even worse about their stupid fight. Todd had wanted to propose to her in front of everyone at the annual Baker Colwell ball, while Holly had wanted it to be a more private affair. He had refused to budge on the issue and after three days of not speaking, Holly had finally come to realize what a fool she was. If he wanted to show his love for her in front of the entire company, well it was hardly something she should be arguing over. Especially since she had ‘accidentally’ found the ring at the bottom of his closet a week earlier.
It was beautiful. And so big. And if only she hadn’t died, then she would’ve been able to apologize to him before the ball and by the end of the night it would’ve been hers. It wasn’t fair. Especially when she thought of how much she’d spent on the pink bra and panties to complete her apology. Not that she had resented the cost, since it wasn’t everyday a girl got engaged. Besides, Todd had once said how gorgeous pink looked against her dusty brown curls and huge sloe-shaped eyes. Well, okay so he hadn’t used those words exactly, since he was more of a salesman than a poet. But Holly just knew he had been thinking it on the inside.
Still, there was no use crying over spilt milk, or diamonds as big as her knuckle. She was in heaven now and she just had to forget about how much better the death notice would’ve looked if only it said, loving fiancé, Todd Harman.
“But,” she said with one final sniff. “There’s no denying it would’ve been a beautiful wedding.”
“I told you. No talking during a funeral.”
“And I told you that since I’m only going to die once, I might as well make the most of it,” Holly retorted to the person behind her. “Besides, how often do you get all of Baker Colwell’s head office to turn up to your funeral? And that includes the notoriously stuck up Corporate Affairs guys from fifth floor. Look, they’ve even spelt my name out in bright red roses and white carnations. What a nice gesture.”
“Miss Evans,” someone else said and Holly reluctantly spun around. This was one voice she couldn’t ignore. When she first arrived in heaven, she’d been under the mistaken impression that Tyrone, her first level tutor, was actually God. The fact that he had laughed hysterically at her mistake hadn’t made Holly warm to him much. From what she gathered, no one really got a good look at the big man, so who was to say he didn’t look like Tyrone? It was possible.
“There have been complaints.”
“Yes, Miss Evans. Complaints. About the talking. It’s got to stop.”
“I’ve hardly said anything,” she protested. “Honestly I haven’t. It’s just that some people around here jump down your throat for even breathing…well not that we actually breathe anymore. But still, they really should try and relax a bit. Anyway, it’s easy for them to sit there looking smug since most of them got to see the right side of seventy.”
Tyrone gave her a patient smile. “Remember I explained these feelings are just temporary and as soon as they’re purged you’ll be left with an overwhelming sense of joy.”
Holly grunted as by way of an answer, since the longer she was dead, the less joyful she was becoming. It wasn’t that she wanted to cause a fuss, but she was still grappling with what had happened.
She had her whole life in front of her: a great new promotion with the eleventh most benefit friendly employer in the country, a whole heap of friends and a potential fiancé who was drop dead gorgeous. Oh yes, she had it all to live for, all right. But around here that didn’t seem to matter.
“Look, Miss Evans. This will get easier as you go along. You just need to stick to the rules and do as you’re told.”
Holly was becoming more and more frustrated. She wasn’t usually quite so petulant, but then she wasn’t usually stuck in heaven either. “What are they going to do, kill me? Oh, wait, that’s right. I’m already dead.”
“Actually…” Tyrone cleared his throat. “I think you’ll find there are quite a few fates worse than death.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Holly was stung into replying. “I’ve got to say it’s a pretty disorganized up here. All I keep hearing is. ‘Of course you can’t see your parents yet, Miss Evans; you need to wait until you’re at Level Three for that…no, Miss Evans you can’t go and haunt someone just because they took credit for one of your ideas last month…’”
All around her she could see people catching their imaginary breath in an inward gasp.
That was another thing about this place. Everyone just seemed to sit around doing nothing. Tyrone said it was because on Level One people were still waiting for their security clearances before moving up to their higher destinies. But whatever the reason, it was pretty annoying to always have a peanut gallery of dead people listening in on what she was saying.
“I know it seems frustrating to you right now, Miss Evans, but you just need to try and be patient a bit longer,” Tyrone said in a mild voice, which reminded Holly of just how pointless it was to try and argue with him. “So please, no more talking.”
“Fine.” Holly felt the fight drain out of her as she let out a sigh and turned back to her own funeral. She would try very hard to watch the rest of it without opening her mouth, and—
“Oh, great. This day just keeps better and better doesn’t it. First the horrible dress and now look. Why are Vince Murphy and all the other computer technicians down there? Don’t they have anything better to do?”
Behind her Tyrone coughed and Holly lifted her hand in an apology. “Okay, sorry. I was just a bit thrown to see them. Especially since it’s not like I was friends with them. I mean, yes Vince and I do go to school together for a short time, but…oh, and why does Vince have all those purple flashing lights dancing around his head? I know he’s weird, but that’s just something else.”
“If you’d read your manual properly you’d know purple lights mean the body in question is about to die,” the same annoying person called out from the peanut gallery. Obviously she wasn’t the only one who missed out on their purging. This guy didn’t seem to be feeling the love either.
“Oh, and I suppose that’s right next to the bit about no talking during a funeral,” Holly retorted.
“Actually it is. But since you were obviously too busy doing your nails instead of learning how to read before you committed suicide—”
Holly spun around and glared at the man for the first time. “I. Did. Not. Commit. Suicide.”
“Of course not and I guess those pills magically entered your system,” said the horrible man (who Holly was very glad to note was incredibly fat). “Oh yeah,” he continued with a snigger. “You’re not the only one who looks down at what’s going on. I saw the hospital report and what they said. Apparently it’s not the first time you’ve tried it either. Sounds to me like you’re not only a big mouth, you’re a—”
“Thank you, Mr. Michaels, that’s enough,” Tyrone interrupted before joining her at the window.
“I didn’t commit suicide.” Holly managed to keep her voice low. She could feel her body shaking, which was not in keeping with what Tyrone had explained to her. Once a person got to heaven, while their spirit still had the appearance of a body, it didn’t actually work like one. As in no feeding, no watering, no washing.
Holly put it down to this purging business.
“It’s no one’s job to judge here, Miss Evans.”
“Tell that to the fat guy behind me,” she muttered in a sullen voice as her fingers unconsciously made their way to the faded scars on her wrist.
Tyrone coughed. “Again on the not being here to judge.”
Holly bit her lip. “Okay. Sorry. He probably has a wonky metabolism or something. But.” She gulped as she stared out the window again. “Is Vince Murphy really about to die? What’s wrong with him?”
“Probably missing your smart wit.”
“Mr. Michaels,” Tyrone said in a quiet voice, which somehow sounded more like a roar than a whisper as it echoed around the large glass fronted room. “One more word and it’s another month on Level One for you.”
Serves you right, Holly wanted to say, but she wisely kept her mouth shut. Besides, Tyrone was sort of scary. She watched him turn back to her.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with your friend, but it’s true he’s about to die,” he said in a kinder voice. “However, Miss Evans, I have to insist there’s no more talking, because otherwise the matter will be out of my hands. Do you understand?”
Holly nodded her head and lifted her fingers to her lips and pretended to zip them together before returning her attention back to Vince. How odd that he would die as well.
She watched as her stepmother walked to the front of the church and smoothed out a piece of paper. She could just guess what was on it. Holly Evans has been the bane of my existence for as long as I’ve had the displeasure of knowing her and despite how much she denies breaking my favorite Clarice Cliff jug, I know she did it…
Of course her stepmother was too clever to say these things aloud, but Holly bet her beloved Miss Sixty jeans, her stepmother was thinking them on the inside. Well, Mrs. Evans number two, you won’t be burdened with being related to someone like me any longer, Holly thought sullenly.
Her eye was drawn back to Vince Murphy again. If she didn’t know better she would say he was about to collapse. Holly could scarcely believe it as she spun around to face Tyrone, shooting him an accusing glare.
“You didn’t say he was going to die now. As in, right in the middle of my funeral. I’m sorry but this is too much. I don’t get to make up with Todd, I don’t get my wedding and now I don’t even get my own perfect once-in-a-lifetime funeral?”
All of a sudden things started to get a little bit shaky and she stretched out her hands to grab hold of the rail that was attached to the large glass window she’d been staring out of all morning.
Holly had been through a lot of strange experiences in the last two weeks: dying, finding out that heaven wasn’t full of M&Ms and Friends repeats, being told off every time she opened her mouth, but there was something different about this. For a start it felt like she was falling. Down. Through a long white tunnel.
Then she opened her eyes as she realized she was hovering just millimeters from her own dead body, complete with puffy face, bad lipstick and a polyester dress.
Tyrone hadn’t been joking.
She really was getting kicked out of heaven.