By BRM Stewart
‘I shouldn’t be here,’ I said.
The old man with the long white hair and the long white beard looked at me and gave a small, patient smile. His finger stopped moving down the enormous ledger on the table in front of him.
‘Not many people say that in this place,’ he said. His blue eyes twinkled.
‘No, I mean I really shouldn’t be here.’
He gave a sigh, and rested his elbows on the ledger, hands loosely clasped. ‘Your name is Angus Jones.’
‘And you’ve just died.’
‘Well yes, it would seem so.’ I flapped my arms at the white clouds all around us, and the set of golden gates beyond his shoulder.
‘And your name’s in the book.’ He stabbed a finger halfway down the right-hand page.
I could see my name there. Interestingly, everything was in comic sans font – 14-point, I estimated.
My arms dropped to my side and I sighed. ‘Yes, it is. Can you do anything about this, by the way? It’s really annoying.’ I indicated the dagger sticking out of my chest.
‘We’ll sort that out at reception. Along with a change of clothes.’
‘What’s wrong with my clothes? Apart from the bloodstains.’
He smiled, looking at my corduroy jacket and the elbow patches. ‘We’ll get you a change at reception. Now, just a few formalities…’
‘I shouldn’t be here,’ I said.
He gave another sigh and raised his eyebrows. ‘And why shouldn’t you be here, Mr Jones?’
‘Two things. Firstly, I don’t believe in all this.’ I flapped my arms again. ‘I’m an atheist.’
His smiled. ‘Well, you got that a bit wrong, then, didn’t you?’
‘And secondly,’ I went on, ignoring his sarcastic response and pointing to the dagger in my chest again, ‘this didn’t really happen. I was alone, you see, working on my novel –’
‘Of course! You were an author!’ The word came out in italics, with quotes round it.
I ignored him. ‘I’d got to the bit where a woman gets attacked by her lover.’
‘Ah, that old trope, eh? What was she like, this woman? Drop-dead gorgeous? Sexy? Bit mysterious?’
‘Well yes, she was, as it happens. All of those things. What’s that got to do with it? Anyway, I was really getting into the scene where he comes up behind her with a dagger. I was describing it in intricate detail – his expression, his eyes, his gritted teeth. He grabs her, and she screams. And wham – here I am.’ We shared a look. ‘I shouldn’t be here.’
The old man gave another sigh.
‘Let me explain,’ he said. ‘This is the sort of thing that can happen to authors. Rarely, but it does happen. We call it “Schriftsteller Spiegel”. “Writer looking glass”. I’ve no idea why it’s in German.
Sounds good though, eh? Anyway, what happens is that the writer gets too involved in the writing, feels it too much, sees it as if it’s really happening. And, occasionally, for a few seconds, it actually becomes real. Seldom with such catastrophic consequences, however.’ He pointed a long bony finger at my chest and suppressed a giggle. ‘Now let me guess – she managed to get hold of the dagger…’ He spread his hands.
I nodded. ‘I based her on someone I knew. Once. Well, my ex actually. She cheated on me with a friend. And to be fair, I cheated on her with her sister. We argued a lot. She made me so angry at times! I would never have hurt her in real life, though.’
‘But you were hurting her through your writing, weren’t you? In some detail.’
‘I suppose so.’ I looked round again. ‘I guess I’m stuck here now.’
He slammed the ledger shut and a sound like thunder rolled across the heavens. A hand reached across the desk, the forefinger extended.
‘I’m afraid adultery and wrath are major sins, Mr Jones. So, you were right, you shouldn’t be here.’
He pressed a button, and I began falling.