Sarah turned to Liz and said, “I think I’m going with an athletic build.”
Liz leaned over to her friend’s stats displayed on the screen. She’d invested heavily in strength and drive. No doubt hoping to hit it big as a sports star. If she did, she’d no doubt have a good life. If she didn’t… Well, let’s just say she hadn’t invested heavily in intelligence or social skills.
“I’m going to be a Soccer player. You know Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world?” Sarah spoke as if she knew first hand. As if she’d actually been to Earth instead of just this cramped waiting room with its white-washed, sanitized walls. Soon though, the bus would be coming and they’d be taken down to Earth to be born.
“Have you decided what you’re going to be, yet?” Sarah asked.
Liz looked down at the blank screen assigned to her. She’d put some points in intelligence only to take them back out, unsure. Now there was only the blank screen.
“Not yet,” Liz answered.
“Ah, okay. Just don’t go for Soccer Star. I don’t want any competition.” Sarah smiled and skipped on over to another group of Souls clustered in the corner, no doubt talking about their builds, or life on Earth, or something of the kind. Liz wasn’t in the mood for talking right now.
She looked out the window at the fields of white stretching forward into eternity. Tomorrow the bus would be coming for them, and if she hadn’t decided on a build by then, they’d give her a randomized one and those never worked out.
Liz looked around the waiting room where she’d spent the entirety of her existence thus far. Off in the back, now locked, sat the door from where she’d first arrived, straight off the Big Man’s presses. There was only one way back through and that was through the other waiting room.
The two were connected through a narrow hallway, with two twin doors leading to the different rooms. One was marked outgoing, and the other incoming.
Liz looked down at the transparent hands of her ghostly body. There were just so many options. She had considered, briefly, going for an artistic build—invest heavily in creativity and drive. The idea was appealing to a lot of souls who wished their work to be remembered long after their physical death, or to those who just thought the idea sounded glamorous. But what if she got to Earth and decided that art wasn’t for her? What if she decided that she’d rather be a marketing executive? Liz gritted her teeth.
Maybe she should just put all her points in luck. Win the lottery then blow all the money because she hadn’t put anything in financial skills. No, she needed something with more balance, but what?
“Why the long face, Liz?” Liz looked up. A dark-skinned man with welcoming eyes had knelt down beside her. The receptionist.
“Hey, Pete,” Liz said. “I’m just nervous, you know.”
“Well, I think everyone’s nervous before going somewhere new. It’s perfectly understandable…”
“It’s not that. It’s my build. I’m not sure what to do about it.”
Pete’s brow folded, “You mean you don’t have a build yet?”
“It’s just so hard. How should I know what I want to be? How do I know if I want to be a soldier, or a businesswoman, or a stay-at-home mom? I’ve not tried any of it yet.”
“Well, maybe I can help. What are you interested in?”
Liz shook her head, “A lot of things. But how do I know I’ll still be interested in them in twenty years?”
Pete frowned. “Why don’t you come on over to my desk. I think I’ve got something you’d like to see.”
“Oh… sure.” Liz was a bit taken aback by the offer. The Souls weren’t allowed behind the desk. Pete had all sorts of privileged information about the Great Plan that they couldn’t be allowed to see. The young Soul followed Pete through the door and into his office, floating upwards until she was eye-level with the computer.
“Why don’t you take a look at this?” I think you’ll find it interesting. The name on the screen said William Shakespeare. As Liz read, her brow furled.
“This can’t be right?”
“What can’t be right?”
“All his points are in business.”
Pete smiled. “I remember when he first came through this office. He was so sure he wanted to be a businessman. He wanted to hit it rich.”
“But Shakespeare’s an author. Everyone knows that.”
“Well, he is now. Look,” Pete leaned in close, “your starting stats are just that: how you start. And every choice you make about how you spend your time will change them. Shakespeare didn’t become the greatest author to ever live by clicking a couple of buttons on a screen. He did it by making a choice every day. You understand?”
Liz nodded. “I think so.” She gave Pete a hug, her arms passing through his sides. For the first time she felt like she could breathe. “Thank you so much.”
* * *
Liz took a seat with Sarah on the bus. She was smiling.
“What’re you so happy about?” Sarah asked.
“Got my stats figured out. Just in time, too.” She showed her friend the screen. Sarah half laughed, half rolled her eyes.
“I swear, Liz, you’re the most boring person.” Liz shrugged and looked down at her screen. Equal points in every stat. She didn’t need some machine to tell her who to be. She could figure that out on her own. She glanced back one last time at the waiting room. The sign in front of it read: You Are Now Leaving Heaven, Please Live Carefully.
Liz smiled. It was going to be a nice life.
Matt Hollingsworth is a publishing student at Belmont University in Nashville. He is a science fiction and fantasy writer who has been previously published or accepted here at Fabula Argentea, as well as in Bards and Sages Quarterly, The Land of Dust and Bones anthology, and elsewhere. His blog is available at:
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “You Are Now Leaving Heaven”
Remember being asked as a child what you wanted to be when you grow up? In under 1000 words, author Matt Hollingsworth delivers a delightfully imaginative, heartwarming, memorable story that takes it one step further and gives us something to think about.