In honor of Sample Sunday, here is the first chapter of An Unassigned Life, being published by Inknbeans Press next month. If you're interested in the prologue of the book, click here.Tim never gave much thought to what came after death. His experience with religion had been limited to a few sermons in his best friend’s church when he was a kid and a brief foray into the world of Buddhism, led by Tina’s search for fulfillment. Neither had provided Tim with more than a comforting, if inappropriate, nap. He used to watch the shows about hauntings and laugh at the foolishness of men trying to communicate with something that was most assuredly a figment of their imaginations. He had long since decided that nothing followed life besides a long sleep in a cold, dark box. All of which is why, when he landed with a thump on the ground next to his car, he thought the rope had broken.
“Damn it,” he muttered. He closed his eyes and lay back on the ground, his arms crossed behind his head. “Maybe I should have tried pills again.” The idea that struck him a moment later was so brilliant that he opened his eyes in surprise – and saw himself hanging from the rafter above.
Stunned, he hopped to his feet and backed away from his swinging corpse – that which he’d always believed to be the essence of his being. He nearly jumped – or maybe floated is more accurate – a foot off the ground when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. The scream that escaped him was both unmanly and potentially insane.
“Pardon me, Mr. Chase. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
He turned to face the being behind him, recognizing immediately that it was an angel, despite its lack of requisite wings. “I get to go to Heaven?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Oh.” He wasn’t really surprised, but he was confused. “Why are you here?”
“Think of me as your concierge. I’m here to answer questions and give directions when necessary.” The angel smiled. “I’m a big fan, Mr. Chase. I was looking forward to your next book immensely. This,” he said, gesturing to Tim’s hanging corpse, “is quite a disappointment. Ah, well…c’est la vie.”
“You read books?”
“Of course. It’s one of the perks of the job.”
“Heavenly concierge, of course. I only work right after an unassigned soul dies or when one requires assistance.”
“We’re getting ahead of ourselves. First of all, allow me to introduce myself: I’m Ezer. I’m here to help you to adjust to your new status.” He pulled a slim device from his suit pocket and handed it to Tim. “This will answer many of your questions.”
It had a flat screen similar to one of those e-readers everyone was using now. Along the edge of the device was an inscription: El Pad. There didn’t appear to be any buttons on it at all. What is this? Tim thought, and the answer appeared on the flat screen: The El Pad is an intuitive instrument provided to all unassigned dead for their use until such time as they are assigned or the world ends.
Okay, Tim thought. What are the “unassigned dead?”
The device answered. The unassigned dead are those people who, for whatever reason, failed to choose one of the five paths of enlightenment.
Paths of enlightenment?
The paths of enlightenment are the major religions of the world.
“Nifty, isn’t it?” Ezer asked. “We just got these in a few years ago. Before that, everyone got this huge volume called The Book of El. It wasn’t really portable for your average human. Even we angels had a heck of a time hauling one around. Anyway, after this came out, it really made my job an easy one.”
“Even with this, you’ve got to be busy. People die all the time.”
Ezer laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, you are a clumsy lot, aren’t you? Always crashing to your untimely deaths. The things I’ve seen…let’s just say this” – he gestured at the body again – “is clean and simple, comparatively speaking.” Tim grimaced and the angel resumed his professional demeanor. “I only work with unassigned souls, and I only serve the Northern half of the Western Hemisphere. Since I don’t sleep, I have plenty of time to read.”
“How do you do that?”
“Read? It’s simple enough, really. Except for Chinese. I still have trouble with that language.”
Tim shook his head and said, “No. Not sleep. How do you do that?”
“I don’t need sleep. And, now, neither do you. You’ll find you have a lot more time to think when you don’t have to waste so much of it sleeping.”
“But I like sleeping.”
Ezer shrugged. “I guess you should have thought of that a few minutes ago.”
Tim was tiring of this sarcastic creature. “If I’m unassigned, how do I get assigned? Do I just need to accept Jesus, or what?”
The angel chuckled. “Humans. You’re always so eager to find a path to enlightenment once you’re dead. If you’d only put a couple of days of thought into it before you were in this predicament…ah, well. Not much we can do about that now.” The angel looked at Tim’s body again. “How long do you suppose it will be before they find that? It’s going to start to draw flies, you know.”
“I sent a note to my sister and my agent before I came out here.”
The angel arched his eyebrows. “I guess you’ll be hanging around for the weekend, huh, Tim?”
Ezer pulled his own El Pad from his pocket and showed it to him. “This is your sister’s schedule for the weekend. As you can see, she’s on her way to California right now. She won’t be checking her email again until Tuesday morning.” The screen flickered for a second before showing Ellen’s schedule. “Ellen will be in London for the long weekend. She will see your message – but she won’t open it until your sister calls her with the bad news.” Ezer shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid you irritated her a bit more than you should have.”
If he’d still had a body, he would have been sick to his stomach. “What do I do now?” he asked Ezer weakly.
“You wait. There are some really nice unassigned people in your neighborhood. You could visit them. Most of them are shut-ins, I’m afraid. They haven’t ventured far from their homes since their deaths, poor things. It’s the old Book of El, you see. It’s not very portable and you really need to stay near it in case of exorcism.”
“Exorcism? You mean that actually works?”
“Yes, sort of. The Book of El or an El Pad can protect you, but only if you are within ten feet of it. If not, an exorcism can force you into an assignment.”
“What’s wrong with that? Assignment is the goal, right?”
“There are five paths of enlightenment but six possible assignments. Trust me when I say you don’t want to get assigned to the sixth possibility. Dante gave a pretty clear picture of what that assignment looked like.”
“Hell? There’s really a Hell?”
Ezer frowned in distaste. “We prefer not to call it that. Let’s just say it’s outside of El’s jurisdiction.”
“So I just hang around here until the end of time?”
“You’ll have certain opportunities to earn your assignment. If you succeed, I’ll be around to escort you onward and upward, so to speak.” He glanced at his El Pad and said, “I’ve really got to fly. A woman in Pittsburgh just tripped over a tree root and stumbled into a broken branch. Death by tree – that’s gonna be a gory one. Good luck, Tim.” And Ezer disappeared.
Tim took one last look at his body. His face was turning a purplish shade. This may have been a mistake, he thought. The El Pad’s screen flashed and the words Ya think? appeared on it. He slipped the annoying gadget into the pocket of his old sweater and headed for the house.
He opened the back door and went inside. Then he stopped, turned around, and stared. How did I do that? he thought. He pulled the El Pad from his pocket and found the answer: As an unassigned and earthbound soul, you retain the ability to touch anything that you have touched during your lifetime.
“Huh,” he said aloud. “Maybe all those fools hunting ghosts aren’t so far off the mark.”
He returned to his desk and found that he could still use his computer. And, for the first time in years, he began to write.
I hope you've enjoyed the second excerpt from my latest novel, An Unassigned Life. If you have, be sure to "like" me on Facebook or follow my blog so that you will be notified when I post the next chapter. Also, be sure to check out my other books. Until next week...