In 2024, after major breakthroughs in science, including the possibility of humans living a second life by using a series of drugs called ‘2nd Wind’ (which unfortunately could not slow down decay of the human body and did make the newly risen smell like someone broke a 2nd wind) — So, the US Supreme Court ruled that death, as it now stood, “does not terminate the deceased’s obligations to paying one’s bills, student loans and taxes etc.— until the human body reaches such a state of decay that at least three out of four limbs have fallen off.”
But dead Neal Orenstein was determined to go back to work — because he enjoyed it. Work was his life. His death. We all know someone like Neal.
After scraping through his coffin lid and six feet of loose dirt over his grave for two days, Neal was now able to see daylight and the exasperated face of his long suffering wife, Stella.
“Tah dahhhh—cough cough…Tah Dahhhh! I made it!” he said.
“Don’t touch me! Just look at those fingernails,” she scolded.
“I love you too, Stella.”
“The dirt! Just where the hell you think you’re going, Neal? Certainly not in MY kitchen.” After 60 years of marriage, Stella, holding flowers, could read his mind, even if it was becoming worm chow.
“Well, it’s nice to see you, too,” Neal sat up and spat out soil. “Stella, what are you doing here so soon? I thought that I was the one who was to supposed to haunt YOU! And why was I buried? You didn’t have to bury me.”
“We paid ten thousand for the plot, so I decided you should at least spend a few days in it. Was it comfortable?”
“No, it wasn’t comfortable! “Well, Stella,” Neal said brushing off dirt, “off to work. I got to get myself a doctor’s or coroner’s note or that young manager, that punk, Cabebe, will fire me. He hates old people.”
“You mean, dead people,” said Stella. “I admire your dessiccation, I mean dedication, but you aren’t going to work. Not over my, I mean your dead body! So, lay back down and relax. I’ll call your boss and tell him you’re not coming in, ‘cause — SURPRISE! — you’re dead!”
“Dead I can handle,” Neal said, “but unemployed and dead? Pour some coffee on me, Stella. Look at the time.”
“Happy Hills Cemetery doesn’t have a Starbucks. Go back to endless sleep, old man. There is no more job and there’s no more you! I feel like a fool. I came here to grieve your death, so tell me what I’m doing here. I feel like a brainless idiot.”
“No, Stella, I love brains. I mean I your love your brains, brain, your mind,” Neal sputtered.“Where’s my tie? What time is it?”
“It’s 8 a.m., idiot. They just opened the gate.”
“Give me your hand, dear. Help me get up. I’m already late.” Stella reluctantly pulled her husband to his unsteady feet. She was shaking her head, accepting he’d never change.
“I gotta catch the Long Island Express,” Neal told her, spitting out a beetle. “Is this burial suit okay?”
“Except for the morgue’s slit down the back, it’ll do.”
“I can stop at Target and get some duct tape.”
“I have some in my purse.”
“Somehow, I thought that you would.”
“Turn around. Here. Let me fix that coat. So … You think that you can just climb out of your grave and leave me standing here, for a crappy job?”
“Yeah! I feel great. I’m rrrrrready to go, right out of the box.”
“If you feel so great, you promised you’d fix the roof. You silly man. Just stay outside until you get cleaned up.”
Neal stood and wobbled unsteadily, brushing himself off. “Stella, after my first heart attack, Cabebe, said that myocardial infarction is not a good enough excuse to skip work.
“Listen, Neal. I’ve got a nail appointment. Have a nice afterlife. I feel dejected. Ach! You never needed me, did you? And your precious job is probably gone too.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m barely cold and you start in with the guilt. And you came over here just to tell me I no longer have a job?”
“That would seem logical, Neil.”
“Logical? Well, Mrs. Spock, then I’d better hit the pavement. By law, I’m supposed to have a job until my last limb falls off. The grand kids will need college money.”
“Maybe the office staff never got the memo that you’d died,” said Stella. “It was sudden. I never had a chance to call them. Hey, watch where you’re tossing that dirt! I just bought this dress. Look at those nails. When you talk to God, Mr. Big-shot, ask him to get you a manicure. Ugh. “
Stella pointed to his nose.
“You’ve got a worm in your nostril.”
“I love you too.” Neal promised to make it up to Stella the following weekend, but today, he had obligations.
Neal arrived at work a few minutes late and was given a warning by Cabebe, “Just because you ARE “the late Neal Orenstein,” it doesn’t mean that you can come into work late.” Neal was back at his old desk by 9:10 a.m.
The next day, after a restless night drinking and vomiting coffee and shambling around town in pursuit of an ambiguous protein snack, Neal was still able to make it to work, and right on time.
Young Cabebe, was happy, because he no longer had to pay ‘old, faithful’ sucker Neal a living wage. The slick, young exec sniffed the air and suspected that Neal had passed on. No one else knew that Neal was still working and rotting in his corner office making Mr. Milton Armstrong, the top CEO, rich.
On Tuesday, when Neal realized that Cabebe was taking him for a —nearly free — ride, he began to lose the feeling of pleasure he felt working. He left the office while the blinding sun was still high and the season was moving toward Daylight Savings. Neal stumbled toward the station thinking about his grandkids. Tomorrow, he would hit the pavement, seeking the American dream like the other millions of recently deceased workers. Over 20 million of the dead wandered the boulevards. The smug ‘living’ called the sad, dead guys ‘suckers.’ You could see the dead, worn out executives, in every city, shuffling and mumbling “Jobs. I neeeeeeed a job.”
Only because of habit, Neal stopped in at a Denny’s (Stella and Neil’s favorite restaurant when he was alive.) He really didn’t have an appetite for the Grand slam breakfast that he always had ordered. However, the coffee, grown in the blood rich soil of a former cannibal island in Micronesia, named Kupaio, was excellent. As Neal studied the menu, he felt a psychic nudge. It was Stella, conducting a personal seance at another nearby Denny’s, haunting him again.
Is there no peace even in death? he wondered. These new ouija boards make it impossible to hang up on a call.
That afternoon, the commuter train passed by Happy Hills Cemetery as it approached Neal’s old neighborhood. Graveyards are for slackers, he thought. A real man needs to work.
While waiting at the 5th Avenue crosswalk, he saw a hopeful sign. A literal sign — on a telephone pole, illuminated by the ghostly moonlight.
Highly Motivated Executive Services Wants You! YOU need $$$ and WE need BODIES to fill our Diamond Lane passenger jobs!
We’re also seeking Parking Space Holders, and ticket line space holders — Downtown, Full Time. 24 hours shifts available.