The skeleton, wearing a long cloak and a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face, looked down at the list in his hand, checking his next appointment. He hopped into the driver’s seat of his coach and snapped the reins at the four onyx steeds in harness. The horses snorted, pawed at the ground, and galloped off. After a few yards, the entire coach—horses, driver, and all—disappeared into thin air.
It reappeared in a serene neighborhood where the sweeping lawns were lush emeralds and the sky was a clear sapphire. The citrine sun sparkled high above. On the nearest lawn, a football game was in progress. The laughter and joyful shouting almost drowned out the birdsong in the background. The skeleton dismounted his carriage and approached the sidelines of the makeshift field.
The quarterback spiraled the football to a teammate and turned his dark hair and matching eyes to the skeleton. Alarm crinkled the brow of his otherwise flawless olive skin.
“Your time is up,” said the gruff skeleton. “You must come with me.”
“To the afterlife.”
“But I’m already in the afterlife. See?” Deangelo gestured to his surroundings. There wasn’t a flaw anywhere. No threatening clouds, no dead grass, not even a crack in the sidewalk.
“That’s not possible.” The gruffness in the skeleton’s voice cracked and confusion seeped through. “I have you here on my list of Newly Dead.” He stabbed his list with a bony finger.
“I guess that makes me double dead, because I died ten years ago.”
“I can’t believe this.” The skeleton threw his hat on the ground. “If this is some kind of joke because I’m the new guy…”
“Look, this should be easy. I’m already here, so you don’t have to do anything.”
“But all new arrivals have to check in at Intake. If I don’t bring you in, I could lose my job.”
“All right, then. Maybe they can work this whole thing out. I bet there’s another Deangelo Ventura you’re supposed to take.”
Deangelo joined the skeleton on the perch of the carriage, and the horses pulled them into thin air.
They reappeared outside a small log cabin. Deangelo started for the front door, but the skeleton stopped. Deangelo watched the skull make a face that suggested constipation as the other bones jerked in a macabre dance.
“Are you okay?” Deangelo asked as the skeleton thickened.
In a matter of seconds, the skeleton transformed into a fully-fleshed man. Deangelo’s gruesome guide now had sandy hair, blue eyes, and a face one could forget as soon as it turned away. He had almost expected Bengt Ekerot.
“Molly freaks out when I show up in my other form.”
They went inside, where a slender woman with short, curly brown hair sat behind a desk pieced together with unfinished wood. Her tortoise shell-rimmed glasses perched on her pointy nose, distorting her small round eyes. Her thin lips bent into a practiced smile as she greeted the skeleton and his companion.
“Hi there, Skelly! Who do we have here?”
Skelly introduced Deangelo and explained the problem. Molly fiddled with her keyboard. She read something on her computer screen, then looked at Deangelo.
“It was a typo. In your file, it says your Death Date is 11/27/2011, but on the requisition form, it says 2001.”
“You mean, someone typed in one little wrong digit, and I lost ten years of my life?”
“I know how you must feel . . . Actually, I don’t have any idea how you feel. I can only imagine your emotional suffering. Because of the inconvenience, I will edit your file and get you back home for the ten years you missed.”
“You’re going to, what, turn back time?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Molly frowned in what she seemed to think was a sincere manner. “But Skelly will escort you back to the physical plane, and you won’t see him again for another ten years.” She showed Deangelo the new date in his file: 11/27/2021.
“But what will I do? I’ve been dead for a decade! How do I pick up where I left off?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that,” Molly tried to look disappointed.
“It’ll give you more time with your family. And this time, you’ll get to say goodbye,” Skelly said.
Deangelo agreed to return. Molly’s syrupy farewell chased them out the door. “See you in ten years, Mr. Ventura!”
Deangelo and Skelly climbed into the waiting carriage, and Skelly urged the horses into thin air once again.
They reappeared in front of a house Deangelo knew well. His grandfather had built the house himself. His father was born there; he was born there; his son was born there. Deangelo climbed out of the carriage. Skelly tipped him a wave and he and his horses disappeared.
Deangelo’s mind turned to his wife. They had met his senior year in college. She had gone with some of her girlfriends to the deli where he had been working. He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her cascading, caramel hair and wide, hazel eyes. Lucky for him, she hadn’t minded.
She moved home with him after he graduated and the baby came the following year. He had seven more amazing years with his family before his life was cut short.
He couldn’t go back. They’ve already mourned him. Was it really fair to show up on their doorstep, unchanged after ten years, then make them mourn him again in another ten? He loved his family more than anything in this world, but to reappear, to tease them, was just cruel.
Deangelo looked up the road, thoughtful. With one last forlorn glance to the house he built his old life in, Deangelo walked away, pondering how to spend the ten years of his new life.