Gatekeeper in the so called afterlife who struggles to carry out his duty of welcoming the dead citizens of Brno as his supervisor threatens to retire and leave him to take care of everything.
„Welcome to The Grave of Brno. I won‘t tell you my name, but I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone calls me The Gatekeeper around here. It would surely surprise me If you ever heard about The Grave, let alone knew what it is. Allow me to explain. You have died and this is, what you humans would call the afterlife.“
The man before me gaped at me as If he was deaf. It wouldn’t be the first time. He had this glassy look in his eyes and I realized he probably wasn’t ready. I should’ve seen it, something seemed off from the moment he walked through the door. I looked on the paper on my desk and checked the cause and age cell. Hit by a tram, 20. Whoops.
„Listen mate, I am sorry to tell you, but you got hit by a tram. This here says you died within the first few minutes after the impact.“
His vision seemed to clear a little. Slowly he came to realize what happened to him. I let that sink in for a moment. As he gazed around the room, he could see me sitting behind a gigantic mahogany table with a small stack of papers to my left and a much higher pile to my right. The place was very dim, although illuminated by many candles on the table and the stone walls in faded silver three-branched candelabrums. I tried to convince The Warden to get electrical lights at least for my sake, but he wouldn’t come to terms with me. I swear, the man is too old-fashioned.
„You lost your physical form, but worry not. Life goes on!“
As much as I tried to sound cheerful and relaxed, it came out like a bad jape. The younger ones have always made me tense. This one is not going to speak any time soon. Sometimes it takes them a month or two to acclimatize to everything. I glanced at my watch. Seems I was already working overtime anyway. I handed him his box. Inside were a few neccesities such as clean clothes, a toothbrush and The Afterlife manual, which was suggested and written by me. I take a lot of pride in that too. At first, The Warden was quite opposed to the idea and very cynical about any change. However, after few test subjects, he had to admit it saved the clerks a lot of work, so we agreed to put it into working order for everyone.
Seeing the youngster looking rather lost, I decided to recite the first chapter of The Afterlife manual for him.
„Every single city, town, village, to the smallest of farmhouses has its own Warden. Originally, in the ancient times, when humanity was in its early stages and few people died every day, no Wardens, Gatekeepers or clerks were needed. First, there was just The Old One, who always was and always will be here, residing in the unknown between the Graves. But as time proggresed, he found it difficult to handle all the souls. So, in the flowing river of dying men, he chose the wisest humans with the purest hearts, gave them the gift of eternity and made them into the first Wardens.“
I peeked at him nervously. Probably listening. Good.
„Since those times the Wardens have welcomed the mortal minds to the Graves and chose their own descendants and assistents, today known as the Gatekeepers and the clerks. When a human dies, his spiritual self remains and leaves for the place where his memories are the strongest.“
I finished with a slight bow in his direction, to signalize the end of the chapter. Unfortunately for both of us, he showed even more signs of confusion than before.
„For you, the memories were the strongest in Brno, that’s our Grave. You probably lived there.“
A flash of understanding flew over his face. Then it was gone again.
„I don’t have all day. Read the handbook I gave ya and direct any further questions to the clerks.“
I stood up and patted him friendly on the back.
„Good luck in the afterlife.“
He managed to squeak out a weak thanks before I send him on his way. At least a bit of gratitude. Adolescents don‘t have a shred of respect these days.
After my shift finally ended and I sorted out all the paperwork, I went to the common room. We, and by we I mean the people touched by eternity, in the service of The Old One, don’t live with the rest of the souls, directly in The Grave. We live at the edge, where The Gate is. I walked over to the crackled wooden counter to get a beer. One of the clerks rushed to draft me a pint. It’s not half bad to have your own staff, even when they’re a few decades older than you. I really can’t complain. The dry stout in my copper tankard isn’t half bad, just way too bitter for my taste. At least a dozen clerks sat by the tables discussing work. Some of them raised their hands in place of a greetings. Two women in brightly colored dresses played pool and laughed loudly on the far side of the tavern. I was looking for a quiet place to sit, when one of the older clerks approched me. He has a good hundred years on me, but has always been very respectful. Now that I think on it, he’s probably the oldest one here, right after The Warden.
He acknowledged me with a polite nod.
„The Warden wants to see you.“
So much for my evening holiday. I thanked him for delivering the message, gave him leave for the evening and headed up the stairs too see what is needed of me. Perhaps he just wants to have a beer.
I strolled through the door into his private chambers. I knew I didn’t need to knock. When The Warden calls you, you should see him right away, flat and plain. He was sitting in a room not unlike my office at The Gate. There was a chair opposite of him.
Wearing his everyday green doublet with wide red hemming, he usually looked absolutely majestic. The red and white belt with an austrian flag pattern was lying on the table. Old habits die hard. He never told me, who he was, but I had my suspicions. But today, his magnificence was gone, today he seemed weary and… Concerned.
He spoke. „I want to move on to The Grave.“
I can’t say I didn’t expect it. He was in the office for a long time.
„Who is to be The Warden?“
This wasn’t the first time he asked me to take his place. Many would be honored, but I knew the harsh reality. Being The Warden wasn’t just ordering people around, the burden was immensely bigger than that.
„Do you know what happens, when you walk out The Gate?“ He asked.
That shocked me. Not that I’ve never considered it, but it was pure blasphemy to think such thoughts. Let alone speak them.
Sitting down, I answered honestly „I do not.“
„A mere soul would truly die, dissipate unknown where to.“
I stayed quiet. I had a bad feeling about this.
The silence streched for long minutes. He’s been here for two hundred years, time is not of much value for him.
„Unless you are a spirit in service of The Old One, then you rise and live again.“
I sat still, silent. For the last few decades, I have been working everyday on the border of life and death, not knowing I could live again should I decide to.
„Why are you telling me this?“
„I want you to bring the next Warden.“
I probably seemed as confused as my dead client just an hour ago. Which I was. Thereupon he explained everything to me. The plan was as brilliant as it was cruel.
The same night I left for The Gate with nothing but my keys. The Warden has promised to be waiting there. I had only one candle and the light of the flame didn’t reach very far. Everything was dark and murky. The walls were dark and cold stone and the flame cast tricky shadows along the corridor. Finally, I reached my office. I opened the door and nearly bumped into The Warden. He steadied me and we both gazed at the big mahogany gate on the far side of the room. Everything important seemed to be made of mahogany around here. A tremor went through me as I unlocked The Gate. What If he’s lying? No. He has no reason to. Besides, he’s a friend and your boss to top that off. I stepped through The Gate.
The next thing I know, I’m lying on my back in the middle of the road. The cars engines roared and the klaxons were making too much noise. Suddenly I knew exactly where I was. Physical realm, Earth, Czech Republic, Brno, Moravian square. Allow me to pause here for a second and explain, why I was so sure of this. I died here. A drunk driver killed me here no more than thirty years ago. I was an old man, so I’ve met most of my friends back at The Gate. And just like that, I was alive again. As simple as that. I have always been amazed by what The Old One has accomplished and build over the ages. But never have I imagined he had the power to control life and death in such a drastic manner. Now I was young again. Only I looked different, which took some getting used to, but I managed.
Searching for the next Warden took me a few years and that was still much sooner than I expected. At first I was curious why The Warden didn’t want to go himself. Doubtless he believed in my judgement. I hope he wasn’t wrong.
The woman I have chosen for the job was a professor at a university, a smart, intelligent lady in her mid thirties. Only thing, she lived in Prague. Should she die now, her spirit would unquestionably leave for The Grave of Prague. Nevertheless, even for this situation The Warden has devised a plan. Throughout the years I have became acquainted with her. Soon enough we started dating. I can’t say I wasn’t enjoying my time back in the live world, but the only thing I ever had in view was getting our next Warden back home. To The Grave, I meant to say. And so we moved to Brno and she lived a happy life. One beautiful evening, when I was sure Brno was the only place in her mind, I took her for a trip around, to see the countryside. I knew I couldn’t risk waiting too long, so I decided to quicken the pace of her life. She was delighted and couldn’t wait when I told her. We were sitting in my car, listening to slow jazz music, watching the sun set.
„Honey, do you believe in God?“ I asked her there. I was holding her hand in mein. She was very warm. In my left hand, I was holding the knife. The steel was cold on my skin.
„But of course I do. He guides me everywhere, as he guided me to you.“
Enlightened as she was, some things were going to be a shock to her.
I looked in the mirror and saw the face of god. Perhaps I have grown cynical over the years, perhaps even arrogant. But a life is a thing to admire and revere. The question of being and death is not up to humans to decide. I have no right to do as I will, even after all I have lived and lived not. All these thoughts were soaring through my head as I drove the blade into her heart. Soon after I followed her into The Grave.
Somehow I got there sooner. I looked my normal self again. As I strode under the mahogany doorframe I walked into a candlelit stone room with a huge mahogany table in the middle. The Warden had a high stack of papers on his left and a small bundle on his right. He was doing a lousy job. I took his place and waited for my wife. In just a few seconds she came through The Gate.
„Welcome to The Grave. I won‘t tell you my name, but I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone calls me The Gatekeeper around here.“