January 2015 – left alone – Next by John Pilling


by John Pilling

“Next.” I shuffled forward clutching my operation gown together, I was annoyed and determined to make the point to whoever was responsible..


“James Webster. Captain James Webster and I would like to speak to whoever is in charge here.”

“Your reason?”

“Well just look at me, I’ve been badly wounded, I don’t think it’s right I should have to queue in a corridor before my operation, surely I should have a bed?”

“Your comment is noted. Follow the yellow arrows through the door to your right.”


“The door to your right, James Webster, you are awaited. Next.”

Seething, I turned away and hobbled towards the indicated door. It opened as I approached and, passing through, I found myself in a small office with a large comfortable looking armchair in front of a desk. Behind the desk, a worried looking little man was frantically turning the pages of a large ledger.

“Webster A…Webster DE….Webster J…. Ah yes, Webster J here you are.” He said, flattening a page. “Thought I’d lost you there for a moment, do please sit down my dear fellow, how are you feeling?”

“Not very happy at the moment,” I said, sinking thankfully into the comfort of the armchair. “I was telling the receptionist that I didn’t think patients should have to stand in queues waiting for their operations.”

“But my dear fellow,” the little man said, his face turning grave.

“You’ve had your operation, don’t you remember?”

“Well, the orderly giving me an injection and telling me it would take a few minutes to work …then I found myself in the queue here.”

“Ah…well in that case I regret to inform you that you did not survive the operation, you are in fact dead.”

“What do you mean I’m dead? I’m talking to you.”

“Well, yes… but there is the little matter of the afterlife, you know.”

“The afterlife, what afterlife? All that rubbish, I don’t believe in it.”

“Rubbish, is it?” said the little man, coldly, “I see, well if it is, it’s your rubbish.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I am saying, Mr Webster, that despite your assertion to the contrary you must believe in an afterlife. You can’t disbelieve in something that doesn’t exist, it’s not there to be disbelieved in, therefore you must believe in it. That is why you’re here.”

“Where is here?”

“This, Mr Webster, is the “assessment and distribution centre”…basically, you arrive, we read up on your life book and then direct you to the place our experience tells us you are best qualified for. Now, if you will be kind enough to give me a few moments.” Bending his head, he adjusted his glasses and proceeded to closely scrutinise the page in front of him.

“Hmmm,” he murmured, “ah yes…mmmm…oh dear.” He clicked his tongue and looked up.

“Not a particularly good life I’m afraid,” he said. “Rather a lot of self indulgence, not a great deal of caring for the poor and needy…bit of a waste, really.”

“Not particularly useful, bit of a waste,” James said incredulously, “are you judging me?”

“I?” The little man said, even more coldly. “I do not judge, I merely summarise what you yourself have recorded during your existence.”

“This is ridiculous,” James said, “I don’t believe in any of this, there is no afterlife.”

“As I said before Mr Webster, you must believe in it. I am demonstrably here after all so you must believe in me, if you didn’t, I wouldn’t be here would I?”

Smiling somewhat complacently, the little man leaned back in his chair and looked steadily at James. “It’s like the world you’ve just come from, it existed because you thought it did. All your senses told you it existed, so to you, it did. Excuse me a moment.

Leaning forward, the little man pressed a red button on his desk. Immediately a hatch opened in the wall to his right and a very red face with a black horn on each temple appeared, preceded by a whiff of smoke.

“Yeah, what is it now?” The face said, “we do happen to be rather busy at the moment, there is a war on, you know?”

“Captain James Webster,” said the little man, “do you have anything on him?”

“Just a minute,” the face said, disappearing, there was the sound of pages being turned then the face reappeared.

“Nah…sorry mate, pretty nondescript life that one, nothing we’d be interested in. A few naughties, not worth bothering about, I couldn’t justify the kindling, believe me.” The hatch closed with a bang leaving a faint whiff of smoke behind.

Closing the book, the little man leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

“Oh dear,” he said, “I’m afraid you’re a bit of a problem Mr Webster, not good enough for …er” here he pointed upwards with his forefinger, “and not of interest to the other place, what am I to do with you?”

“You can’t do anything to me,” James said, “you don’t exist.”

“Oh very well,” the little man said, “have it your way.”

As he spoke, he and the office gradually faded until they disappeared altogether and James found himself in total utter darkness. No up, no down, no light, no sound. And as the freezing cold started to seep into his mind, deprived of everything that confirmed his existence, he screamed, “Let there be light!”

And there was.


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