ScifiShort fiction

Brief Farewells (a Limbo City story) by: GF Willmetts (story).

Once upon a time when you were dead, you were dead. You still are until recently but allowed a brief farewell to your loved ones for some instead of just looking down on a corpse on a bed. None of that séance bullshit. A sensitive had hooked onto someone recently dead and appeared in what appeared to be half-way limbo city. It appeared that the spirits of the dead hung around there for a while before…well, no one had travelled any further and returned to find out where. It was always thought that this was a form of limbo but no one knew whether it went to a heaven or hell. It didn’t even matter what religion you were, ultimately everyone arrived at this city of dreams for a little while before…well, before wherever they went. Somehow, some of us were able to briefly get in there as well.

It was purely by accident that a living sensitive had dropped in. Manila Persue had been touching his grandmother when she died and he shared her experience of the city before she  vanished and he returned to us, whatever us in this reality is. The medics thought he had died as well by her hospital bedside and absolutely no one believed his experience. I mean, a tall towered city with the transient dead? Who was he kidding? How could you have an out-of-body experience like that without looking around the room on the way back for the worded note left on top of the cupboard to catch out such claimants. Manny insisted he didn’t hang around in the room but this city. It took a while, but he convinced them to let him hold someone else’s hand at the point of death and return with information that only they would know. None of this is helped by the fact that there is no talking there. No one seemed to have any voices or could hear anything. Limbo was pretty noiseless. But if that was the spirit world, why would anyone have any physical senses that corporate bodies had. Anyway, Manny could lip-read and returned with some info that he couldn’t have known which made for a very convincing argument. It also meant looking around to see what other sensitives could do this without any frauds. That’s when it became a requisite to come back with some information they couldn’t have had in the first place the first few times.

pulpy pulp

When a few more sensitives were found, someone asked if they could all get into the limbo city at the same time. Lining up four people dying around the same time is hard enough until someone else suggested the next available major traffic accident. There were always some of those, assuming we could get there in time. It did find our first fraud when only three sensitives appeared in limbo and there was some real dirty looks at the fourth when they returned but it proved it could work. Inadvertently, this had given a blind test as well so although he was kicked out, it had given a proof for the other three. There was also the discovery that sensitives could hear their own thoughts and so at least we could communicate between ourselves while there. Must have something to do with having our own senses in our world but no one knew for sure.

Slowly but surely, our numbers grew. No one knew what made us sensitives or what would happen when one of us died. We were the young sensitives. I was number 589 out of a thousand or so. At most a few would meet up in limbo city at any one time but we were the only people left standing when the departed moved on and the next group arrived. Limbo city was a huge place but where you consider about 300,000 people die in an hour, the place was hardly like how many people could stand on the head of a pin. We’d be gone when the next…er…batch started to arrive and the connection was broken.

That’s jumping ahead of ourselves. It didn’t take long for the news to reach the public with varied reactions. Regardless of religion, it enforced the belief of an after-life or after-something. Various priests saw this as proof there was a soul and an after-life although it was quickly emphasised that one shouldn’t commit suicide to move on because we’d only seen through the opening door. No one knew what happened next. It might still only be death until whatever was us really was dispersed into the cosmos. It might just be how the cosmos processed the dead back into itself.

All kinds of applications were considered. A means to identify murderers from their victims until one of the sensitives explained that there was only an opportunity to go there a brief few minutes after death. Bringing messages back did become a pastime as the dying realising they couldn’t talk could finger write a brief message or let us lip read their hurried speeches. This was all somewhat limited and we were learning all the time. It still depended on us being there when someone died. It became less about attending accidents or disasters and more to do with being in hospitals and deathbeds. Even then, there simply wasn’t enough of us to go around and so it did become something of a fee paying service for many, assuming we could get there in time. A few tried having their own clinics for the nearly departed but you needed more than one person there and it could be physically draining to be forever jumping from our world to the limbo city.

But what really changed things was when someone touched the sensitive who was touching a dead person and they found themselves in limbo city as well for that brief time as well. It was no longer a place just for the sensitive elite to visit, we could take passengers. They had the same limitations as ourselves but now it was much more personal and opened up an industry and business even more. Of course, they couldn’t hear the dead or ourselves and had to pay attention to what we told them before such visits but it gave that last rare opportunity for one final hug before their dearly departed moved onto whatever was to happen next.

There was still some scientific investigation. We’d be asked to check things out and see how long we could stay before we were drawn back. Look around the city and see if there were signposts or anything else to explain why limbo looked like a city and not a railway station. If we could see where they went even better. Occasionally, we could bring a scientist with us but they were none the wiser when they came back or to offer any better insight than what we told them. Only a tiny fraction of the population has ever visited limbo but apart from looking to the recently deceased, they rubber-necked in as much amazement as the departed, who at most could pretend to drink or whatever it was at the apparent open air cafes that existed there. Calling limbo city a departure lounge wasn’t that far from the truth but it still looked like a city. A bit difficult to do or call it anything else.

Limbo city was well-lit but had no sun. A lot of towers. A lot of white but definitely no sound. In some respects, if the number of people suddenly appearing were speaking, it would have been a hell of a clamour. It looked like one of our cities although sensitives from abroad said it looked a lot like cities from their side of the world. All that meant was the limbo city was more a comfortable illusion in the eye of the beholder that we were privy to. Had Manny been thinking of cities in his first appearance there?

If you had a relative near death, then you hired me or someone like me to hang around with you so I could lock on and take them to this unusual city of the recently dead for one last farewell than hope we’d made it at the last minute and didn’t run us ragged getting there. Most of the time it was people who were comatose. I mean, why see someone off that you were chatting with a moment ago? We got the reputation as guardian angels. Shame we didn’t have wings and halos.

As such, most of us were on an availability retainer for any comatose patients and whoever was available and nearest got the call. Who we were really wasn’t that important because we were the conduit to limbo city. There was often a large family waiting for that last breath and many of us thought they were there less for seeing the last of their beloved and more to see limbo city but we respected their wishes. In some respect, for many of us, the fee was small but added up in sheer numbers. Like undertakers, we were always likely to be in work. Shame we weren’t here long enough to make more use of the money

Which brings us to where I am at the moment watching, I looked at the sign above the bed, George Aaron Farley was his name and he was about to die. The medics kept a stethoscope at his chest and looked to me as the last gasp came as member of the family moved forward, ready to touch me so they could have one last brief farewell in limbo city before returning to Earth.

‘Stop! Please listen. I just need one of your hands and each of you to hold each other. If you let go of me in the city, you just return here. I can’t control that. You can’t go with him. We’re only visitors there. You let go and you’ll be back here. If you do contemplate suicide later, as you can see from here, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever catch him up. Don’t believe the fiction. Just hug and say goodbye while you have time. When more arrivals come and he…George moves on, we all come back. It is better that the last in the line hug and let go for the others to have this opportunity than for all to stay and miss out.’

That is always explained in the literature explained that but we always explain a second time. You can bet someone can’t read or remember. There’s always going to be someone likely to try something different, like breaking the chain, and spoil it for the rest of the family.

We all touched and then we were in limbo city as I touched the departed George. The touch ensured we arrived next to him. He might have been here for some time himself because he was at the café, presumably saying hello to other recently departed. Time was hard to define here. He must have been quite gregarious. It was easy to read his body language as he reached out to each of his family and hugged them. He was going to be deeply missed.

Suddenly there was a flash and my own ‘guests’ were gone as indeed was George and the other recently departed. Instead, I was surrounded by several thousand people and another sensitive. The population had been over-whelmed. That could only happen in war or…

The sensitive I recognised. Harry Shea. That might explain why he was drawn to me. We’d been close since training. Spotting other sensitives here wasn’t that difficult.

‘You going for the conga record, Harry?’

He looked around before staring into his hands. ‘I…I was bringing a family here for a brief farewell when there was a blast…must have been a bomb. Christ, I think I’m dead.’

‘Only the dead can’t talk. Maybe you were stunned and carried by contact?’

‘If I’m not, then what happens now?’

‘You go where the dead go.’

‘Can you check on me and where my body is when you go back, Tom?’

‘Sure. You’ll probably come back just after me.’

I blinked. I was back in our world. There must have been more dead arriving. What had happened? Around me were George’s family.

‘Sorry about that,’ I immediately apologised. ‘There was a bomb blast or something and it overloaded limbo city’s population. Even as big as it is, there’s a limit to the number of people. Does anyone have access to the news, one of the other sensitives was caught in it and I need to check if he’s safe and came back.’

‘You don’t look well yourself, Mr. Mason.’

As the TV came on, the doctor looked me over. ‘It looks like shock,’ he muttered under his breath. ‘Has this happened before?’

‘No! But I need to find Harry.’

‘Here it is, Mr. Mason.’

The volume was put up. There was a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a terrorist attack but an earthquake with masses of fatalities. Harry couldn’t have survived but the call was put out. We sensitives were too rare not to check.

After that, I had to get back into limbo city, just in case he was still waiting there wondering what happened. Was there anyone near death nearby? No, it couldn’t be any other sensitive. I was close to Harry when he arrived there, I would be the closest when I got back there. It was important to know what happened and if he was there to tell him.

Fortunately, there was someone in the same hospital. I gave my apologies to the Farley family and sped off to…the Singh family. Just in time. I gave my sympathies as their grandmother died, everyone held hands and…limbo city.

If ever there were reference points in the city, it was hard to pin-point. The Singhs were happy to see their grandmother off and, to one side, was Harry. He was still here. Did that mean his corporate body was still alive?

‘It wasn’t a bomb…an earthquake. Took out an entire area.’

‘So I’m a wandering spirit?’

‘Only as far as the city. Anywhere else, you’ll have to test. They’re still looking.’ That might have been a lie. I simply didn’t know for sure yet.

‘I tried to hold onto someone moving on a few times but they just faded away. Whatever’s out there doesn’t want me. Maybe my body’s unconscious under the rubble? It would explain why I can’t go back.’

‘They are looking but it was pretty devastating.’

‘If I do die there, will I be allowed to move on from here?’

I shrugged. ‘This is the first time anything like this has ever happened. I haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone else yet. For all I know, we might all end up here.’

The Singhs bowed, having maintained their chain before vanishing back to the hospital as their grandmother vanished. I knew I wasn’t going to be far behind them.

‘You’ll get plenty of visitors. I’ll see you on my next…’

I was back.

‘Your friend cannot return, can he?’ Mr. Singh asked.

I shook my head, Better to explain properly than let the wrong type of report get into the media.

‘There was an earthquake. He was in limbo city at the time. The whole new out-of-the-body experience. Look, I have to talk to my people again. I’m wavering my fee for your help. Thanks.’

The Singhs bowed, humbled by the experience. I don’t think they were expecting one of us to arrive in time anyway. We were kept very busy. I suspect word was already getting around from the others who had just been to limbo city already. I was just the first.

Was this to be our fate then or did it depend on how we died? Always to be stuck in limbo and never being able to move on. The price for what we do, to allow others to share one last brief farewell. I doubt if any of us would volunteer to find out which way it went. No brief farewells for us, just short hellos and never being able to say goodbye. Now limbo city had a resident host in poor Harry and something we might all share…given time.




© GF Willmetts 2015

All rights reserved

Ask before borrowing


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.