REPLACEMENT IN HEAVEN
About the author
John Bottrill Ph.D. is a former professor - author of learned papers in Psychology and several books.
Apart from writing and genealogical research, he enjoys renovating houses, furniture and paintings. He currently lives in Spain with his partner and a naughty cat, called Porage.
Author profile: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/contactenglish
Information about living in Spain can be found at http://smallholdinginspain.blogspot.com.es.
And a list of his unusual books can be found at http://ebook0.blogspot.com.es.
Published by John Bottrill
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed without permission, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
© 2013 Copyright John Bottrill
REPLACEMENT IN HEAVEN
"Oh, hello dear. Are you the replacement?"
"Yes. They said to ask for ...... er ...... damn! I've forgotten the name."
"Yes," visibly brightening. "That's it."
"I'm Dimity." She bustled forward, a plump, motherly woman. "You'll like it here. We're all easy to get on with ..... well, most of us anyway. You'll see. What do we call you? Gudrun? We've not had a Gudrun before. There was a Gundred, but she left centuries ago. Leave your bits and pieces here and I'll show you around. Did you have any trouble finding the place?"
"Oh, no. I knew where it was. Everyone knows where 'Reception' is. After all, we've all been here before." They both laughed.
"Yes of course. When was your last period, and where?"
"Late eleventh century in Norfolk. The Normans had just taken over and things were getting better. Then the plague took me. I didn't last long."
"And who received you here? I never get much chance to do any receiving any more. All this administration......" Dimity gestured emptily.
"A man called Tibbs - the first black man I'd seen. It threw me - I hadn't expected anything like that. He said he was a Merican. Of course, I'd never heard of a Merican. I thought he was a demon or something. I wondered if I was in the right place."
"Well yes, of course you would." Dimity nodded understandingly. "But we expect strange reactions from the 'Arrivals' - particularly those who've had a sudden end. It's easier when it's slow and natural. We generally know what they expect and can make the right arrangements. You'll soon pick it all up."
"But," sudden uncertainty made itself felt, "how will I know what to arrange. I'm not sure I ....."
"Don't worry about it," soothed Dimity. "You won't be expected to know everything, and anyway you'll be trained. You can choose your own section - the periods and cultures you know best, I mean. Except in emergencies, of course. I expect yours was an emergency or you wouldn't have had Mr Tibbs. You were lucky, really - he's one of our best receptionists."
"Yes, I liked him. He felt .........comfortable," Gudrun remembered. "What does he usually do then?" She began to relax, and put the bag she'd materialised for the occasion down on a fourteenth century stool.
"You may not believe it, but he spends most of his time receiving souls as one of St. Peter’s crew."
"But surely ......," Gudrun's mind spun trying to remember the little Christianity she'd heard about. "Is St. Peter black too?"
"God's teeth, how should I know? I never met the actual man - not one of my periods. You could ask Mr Tibbs. He'd know. If you can catch him, that is. There's always so much mopping up to do. And that's his specialty," explained Dimity.
"Oh, it's collecting stray souls that are different in some way and so have fallen through the usual net. Come over but not been received, I mean," she amplified.
Uncertainty struggled with shock on Gudrun's face. "You mean .....some come over and aren't met? But ......how do they know they're dead?"
"That's just it - they don't. So they keep trying to go back. And up to a point they can manifest, of course. But then they find they can't actually do much, and so they get upset, poor things. So they need to be found and have things explained. Unlike the homeless on earth, they do actually get the help they need. And ....."
"But why aren't they met when they come over?" insisted the new receptionist.
"Laws-a-mussy, we couldn't do that! We haven't the manpower. We're always short-staffed."
This idea was so shocking that Gudrun sat down suddenly on her bag. "Oh!" was all she could manage. How could an enterprise the size of this one be short-staffed?
"We just never get enough volunteers in Heaven," went on Dimity, warming to her subject. "I blame Recruitment. They're useless. At first I used to complain and complain. I learned the value of that when I had trouble with a tour operator once. Oh, sorry, you don't know about them, do you? You've not missed much.”
“Anyway,” she continued, “I never got anywhere - with Recruitment, I mean. I know it's not the most glamorous job here. Most recruits want to join the heavenly choir - they never seem to have enough. Can't be good for you, all that twanging - addles the brain, if you ask me. No wonder you never get any sense out of senior management."
This was all a bit too much for Gudrun to grasp. "This is all a bit too much for me to grasp," she muttered.
"I know. Don't you worry your pretty head about it. Eleventh century, you said? Mm." Dimity turned and stared out of the window at the clouds. "It's always clouds. Why can't they change it to something else? Insufficient resources, they say. And if I dare put something pretty up - a bougainvillaea, say - they make me take it down again. Not in the current plans, they’d say. Pah!"
Gudrun jumped. "What?"
"Nothing, dear. Just me running on about the general inefficiency."
"If it's that bad, why don't they do something about it?"
Dimity stared at her amazed. "Why bless me, I just told you. It all comes down to senior management. Not that any bureaucracy's efficient anyway," she added sotto voce.
Gudrun wasn't quite sure what a bureaucracy was, or even if she'd heard aright. "In some ways things don't seem to be much different here than on earth."
"You wouldn't expect them to be, would you? You know the Hermetic dictum. No, perhaps you don't. 'As above, so below.' It's the same pattern at both levels. We ........" She broke off as an angular woman came in wearing a disagreeable expression and sporting a green rinse. "Ah, Celia, there you are. Celia - Gudrun. She'll take you over to Rehab.," Dimity explained. "Send her back when you've finished, will you, Celia."
"Sure, Dim." Celia looked Gudrun up and down with disfavour. Gudrun, who'd never seen green hair before, gaped. "'Samatter - am I black or sump'n?"
"It's green," quavered the new girl.
"Oh that! I just changed it - thought I'd bring a bit of colour into your drab little existence."
"Humph, I'm glad I wasn't rehabilitated by you," thought Gudrun.
"You should be so lucky," snapped Celia, like everyone else fully telepathic after death, even if not before.
They left the office and floated along a path toward an iron gate bearing a sign, 'Rehabilitation', with Dante's inevitable line worked into the wrought iron.
"Oh, I remember this," gasped Gudrun. "I remember wondering why the fence, and was it a prison?"
"Sheez, girl - it's not to keep patients in: it's to stop the place from being encroached on."
"But why would anyone want to encroach? Haven't they got infinity to use?"
"Don't you know anything? As soon as you've set something up, The planners decide to put something next door you don't want. It's their nature."
This didn't mean much to Gudrun. They passed the portal, and floated on through pleasant landscape dotted with various buildings. "I don't recognise any of this," ventured Gudrun.
"No, you wouldn't. This is to give you some idea of the total operation, so you know what goes on and where to bring patients. They all get retrained for their next life, and get help in planning one out. Unless they elect to stay here like you. of course. "Which facility did you go to for your rehab?"
"Facility?" Gudrun had never thought of it in this way. "I thought it was Valhalla."
"That would be D-4, over the other side. Yes, they do a good job. Pity they couldn't do more for your hair."
"What's the matter with it?" With sudden misgivings, Gudrun reached up and patted her coiled plaits uncertainly.
"Don't ask." Celia gave a vinegary smile, and they swept on in silence.
"What's that singing? the new receptionist asked as they passed a high, featureless wall.
"C-92? Oh, that's the Mormons - it's a Christian sect."
"But there's no doors or windows."
"No, well they think they've got Heaven to themselves. You want some Ambrosia?" She held out a bag.
"Oh. Thank you. How many does their place hold?"
"144,000, but there's only a few there. That's why they're singing - to keep their spirits up. Heh, heh - get it? Keep their spirits up? Oh, never mind. Eat your Ambrosia."
The path swept round other buildings and recreation areas. "Why are there so many swings and roundabouts," wondered the Norfolk girl, who'd only seen such things at great jousts.
"Life consists of swings and roundabouts. Why should it be any different here?" Celia looked down her nose. "That's enough for now. I'll take you back. Oh dear, your ectoplasm's drooping." She reached over and patted the droops back into shape. "That's better. Now I'll fix the plaits."
"Leave my ectoplasm alone - and my plaits. I've always worn plaits. They suit me."
"You have to be kidding. OK, OK."
A frigid silence lasted all the way back to Reception.
"Ah, you're back." Dimity came forward, arms outstretched. "Did you have a good time? Come in, Celia - we see so little of you. A glass of Nectar?" Aside, in Gudrun's ear, "might sweeten her up."
"I've better things to do," snapped Celia, who had caught this, and floated off.
"What's this?" asked Gudrun, looking at a board marked with a grid.
"Ah, that's the master duty board. These are your colleagues along here, and down the side are the areas of duty. What would you like? - Hospitals, Battles, Epidemics, Catastrophes, Special Ops... We have to concentrate on where there's most happening .......not enough staff for everything."
"But no one's down for 'Other'."
"No, well that's where 'Mop Up' come in - Mr Tibbs and Co. At least they're supposed to. Now what would you like? Battles? Good - we need every pair of hands for the Final Conflict, if nothing else. I'll put you down for that, though I can't guarantee anything. Besides, you may change your mind during training. Anyway, your OT - Occupational Therapist - will help you decide what you're suited for. We'll meet again when you've finished training."
And so it was. The training seemed never-ending, just as her rehab. had. In fact the aspect of existence Gudrun now had most trouble with was time. It had been easy in life with its blinkered vision of time as a stream, at least she thought it had. But it was getting harder for her to recall properly the feeling of being material, so natural had the eternal once again become.
No, the problem arose in those sessions when she was sent on assignment with a supervisor to learn some aspect of the job. In particularly difficult deliveries, that sometimes included materialization, with again the restriction of linear time for a brief spell. And in addition, the need to deal with a soul possibly terrified.
No one found it easy, but they were all grateful for the paratemporal training, and equally for the endless drilling in empirical psychic psychology. But eventually it came to an end, as everything does, and she was ready. Now the verdict - what would she be assigned to and who would she be working with? Some of her new friends, she hoped.
"Ah, there you are again, my dear. I've been expecting you." Dimity bustled forward as usual, her face alight. "How was it?"
"The usual thing, I suppose. You must have heard it all before."
"And who was your O.T.?"
""Dirty Murty. Why is Krishnamurti called that? He isn't - dirty, I mean. A wonderful soul."
"Oh well, we all get a nickname. I'm sure you've referred to me as 'Dim' - yes?"
Gudrun coloured a bit and wandered over to the roster board to cover her confusion. "We weren't being nasty. Where am I assigned? Did I get 'Battles'?"
"No, of course you weren't - nasty, I mean. Let's see - I've got your file here. Um ......no. You're assigned to "Special Ops'."
"Oh." Disappointed, Gudrun stared at the floor irresolutely. "Why?"
"It says here you were asked for specially ......mm."
"Oh? Who by? Why me?"
"Mm .......," Dimity read on. "It was Mr Tibbs, apparently."
Gudrun felt an immediate wave of resentment. What business was it of his?
Catching the thought, Dimity closed the file sharply. "I'm not allowed to tell you that. Don't worry, child - it's nothing bad. You couldn't have a better colleague. He'll help you all you could ever need. He's got many lifetimes' experience. You have two, don't you, or was it three?"
Ignoring the red herring, the new graduate persisted, "but why should he ask for me? We hardly know each other. And besides, I wanted ......"
"There's a very good reason, I can assure you," broke in Dimity. "Don't fret, child."
Gudrun drew a long breath, held it, then exhaled, trying to calm herself and remember what she'd learnt of 'Special Ops'. Not much - it had all been rather vague. "What sort of ops will I have?" she asked.
Dimity pursed her lips thoughtfully. She'd never had any experience of it really. 'Special Ops' were the crack troops, and they didn't talk much about what they did. Now she regretted she hadn't found out more, as she could have. She hadn't even read the file properly. "Oh, you know - it's difficult cases - multiple personalities, possession, magicians, bigots ......that sort of thing."
"But I've never dealt with any of those. The training covered all the other areas, but not those. I'm not trained for it."
"You think you're not, but you've been trained in every technique there is. You'll just be applying them in unusual cases, that's all. No, don't go on about it, there's a dear. You must be good enough, or the powers-that-be wouldn't have O.K.'d the request."
Thus muzzled, Gudrun allowed herself to be bundled off to her new life. Dimity smothered her in a final embrace outside a door marked 'Special Ops', partially masked by a card marked 'Closed'. "Now don't you fret, my love. I'll always be there anytime you need me. In you go," and she bustled off.
"But it's cl.....," objected Gudrun to a departing back. A scraping sound from the other side of the door - should she knock? Suddenly, the door opened and a young, blond man in spectacles peered out. "Yes?"
"Yes!" replied Gudrun firmly, tired of being pushed around.
The young man looked doubtfully at her. "We're closed today. There's nobody here."
Having nowhere else to go, and being irritated at being apparently unwanted, Gudrun hit back. "Yes there is - I'm here," and pushed past him into an untidy office. "What a mess!"
"Lookit," started the young man uncertainly. "You can't just push in here like that. I told you we're closed. We're ......."
"Don't you talk to me like that. I'm supposed to be here. This is 'Special Ops.', isn't it?" she snapped.
"Sure, but ......" light dawned. "You're the new operative. I'd forgotten." He advanced, smiling tentatively, hand outstretched. "I'm Cary."
Gudrun took a deep breath and shook his hand. "Gudrun," she muttered. "It's all right. Where's Mr Tibbs?"
"Off on an assignment. He should be back soon. Could I help? Ask me anything. Here," brushing a chair off, "have a seat."
The new operator sat down and looked around. "What a mess! Is it always like this?"
"Is it?” He looked around vaguely. “No, it gets cleaned sometimes. I guess it does get kinda messy when we're busy."
"What sort of things do you actually do?"
"All sorts of things - generally ones that no one else wants to do. Possession cases, mainly."
"Such as ......?" suggested Gudrun, all attention. Now she'd get it from the horse's mouth.
"The easiest ones - we call them spiritual possession," he laughed mirthlessly. "They're addicted to drugs or alcohol. Get it? ......spiritual?"
‘Ye gods!’ she thought, but gave a smirk to show she understood. "And what do you actually do?"
"Well, they're just like any normal arrival, except they're more confused. The intoxication is mainly physical, of course, but they haven't been able to think straight for ages, some of them, and they don't want to....They just need ethereal purification - take them to the soul-wash. Haw, haw," he laughed at his own joke. "I like that one."
Gudrun smiled again to show her appreciation. He wouldn't be difficult, she thought, just a bit of a berk.
"Then there's multiple cases. If they're all facets of the same soul, you use straight psychology. If one of the personalities is another entity, of course, it's more difficult. Nectar?" he offered, ambling over to the dispenser.
Brushing aside the offer impatiently, she pressed on. "Another entity?"
A cup filled, he wandered over and sat on the desk, parking the mug firmly among the many other nectar rings on the corner. Gudrun compressed her lips, but said nothing.
"They might be possessed by another living human - witchcraft usually. Or it might be a discarnate human wanting a body." He sipped thoughtfully. "The really tough cases are when it's a non-human entity. They can be nasty because their whole rationale is not like ours."
"You mean demons?"
"Ya, you could call them that. But you won't meet many of those, and you won't be alone anyway. You're more likely to get the straight multiple personalities, I guess. After all, you have some expertise there, don't you?"
Gudrun's mind spun desperately. "No, I don't think so."
"Sure you have - you were one, weren't you?"
He'd obviously made a mistake. "You must be thinking of someone else."
"You're kidding. Sure it's you. Why else would Mr Tibbs make a big deal about getting you here? He needs you."
"Who is this man, Tibbs? I keep hearing about him, but I've never met him -except at my own reception, of course, and nothing made much sense then. It doesn't now either. What is all this rubbish about my being a multiple personality?" Gudrun began to get cross.
Cary gaped. "Oh, my god, you're for real. You don't know. They let you get this far, and you don't know?" He leaned back, shocked. "You have a head start on all of us, and you don't know?"
"Will you stop saying that!" Gudrun stood up, cross and confused. "What is all this?"
Cary stared at her, awed. "I guess I better tell you what I know, but it's not much. Mr Tibbs often talks of you. It must all be in your file. Where the heck is it?" He started pushing files around hopefully on the top of the desk.
"Dimity has it, but she wouldn't let me see it."
"Oh, typical. Any department that wants can see it, but not the person concerned. Typical bureaucracy."
Something snapped inside Gudrun. "Will you answer the question?" she shouted.
"O.K., O.K., keep your cool. Let's see. You were a Viking or something, weren't you?"
"My father was, but he settled in East Anglia with a Saxon wife."
"Yuh, that's it. And you had a twin brother."
"Ye-es, but he died at birth."
"No. His body did, but not him. You must remember."
"Will you stop saying that! I don't remember anything of the sort."
"O.K., O.K., so you don't remember. What do you remember about your childhood?"
Gudrun cringed inwardly. She'd never been able to tell anyone about it, but she well remembered the childhood taunts and her confusion, and the need to cover up. But this man seemed to know something of it. More, he seemed as if he might understand. Suddenly she very much wanted to share all the pain.
"I was all right ‘til I was four - just like the other girls. And then one morning I woke up, and I was eight, and I couldn't remember anything about the previous four years. There was no dress to put on - just leggings and a shirt. And my hair - it wasn't long and plaited: it was shoulder-length, just like a boy's. I was so ashamed." She paused, remembering.
"My father came over to make sure I was awake but, instead of cuddling me as he always did, he was jovial and rough and tumbled me out of bed. I didn't talk much at breakfast and, when father had gone out, mother sent me out to chop some kindling. It was father's job really. She wasn't loving like she usually was." Tears came, and she brushed them away irritably, fighting for control.
"Go on," murmured Cary.
"Later in the morning, a gang of boys - I recognised most of them, but they were older - came to get me to play 'Hunters' with them. Me, a girl! When I wouldn't, they taunted me - "What's the matter today, tomboy? Won't mother let you?" - and ran off, laughing. Quite unexpectedly, mother put her arm round me, and I started crying. We had a long talk, and mother cried too." Gudrun searched her pockets for a handkerchief. Gary kindly materialized one.
"She said I'd been rough for the past four years - not like a girl at all. I wouldn't wear dresses or plaits, and I insisted on being called 'Horsa'. Father quite liked this new daughter who would stand up for herself, and even the boys accepted me as an equal. But now I didn't feel at all like that. I think it took a day or two for it to sink in that I really wanted to be a girl again, and then both mother and father accepted it happily. The boys picked on me because I wouldn't fight any more - the girls too, but I didn't mind hitting them."
"And you remembered nothing about that four years?"
"No, it was a blank - as if they'd not happened." She shivered. "But they had, and it happened again when I was twelve. One day I woke up and I was sixteen and dressed like a boy again. They said I'd been like a boy for the past four years. This time it took longer for my parents to accept me as a girl again, and the rest of the village too. And the worst of it was that there was no place for me. The other girls of sixteen were all full of possible marriage. But no one wanted me." She began to sob in earnest.
Embarrassed, Cary got up and moved around shuffling papers. "Well yeah, I can appreciate that. How did you handle it?"
"It was horrible. People said I was mad or possessed. Some said I was a witch. Eventually, it got too much for my parents to bear, they were so ashamed, so they sent me off to stay with my aunt in Norwich. She just accepted me as I was, and bought me dresses. I was quite pretty, and no one knew me. When I was nineteen, I was betrothed to a fuller. But I was frightened - not of him, but of what would happen when I reached twenty. Would I change again?"
"But you didn't, did you?"
"No. Something strange happened on my wedding night. I felt everything any other woman feels, I suppose - apprehension, excitement. We undressed in the dark - just as well, I think - I'm not sure at that point I would have appreciated my husband's body. In fact, to be honest, I think I myself appreciated women more. There wasn't much foreplay - I don't think he knew much. As he went into me, I gasped. It was partly the pain, I suppose. Why am I telling you all this?"
"Perhaps it's because you've never had anyone else to tell it to. Don't worry - no one will ever hear it from me." Cary shook his head reassuringly.
Gudrun felt better and went on. "It wasn't just the pain, though. It felt as though part of me needed to escape, and I cried out - to blow it out, as it were. As I did, I fancied I heard a voice whisper - I know it sounds silly. It said, "Goodbye, my love - my other half." Then I felt empty - not drained exactly, but not all there. I suppose in some way I felt more together, more ......oh, I don't know - feminine.”
She paused for a minute. “Anyway, I made the usual noises for my husband. I might even have enjoyed it, if he'd lasted longer. It was always over too quickly. But he was kind. It was a happy marriage, and we had a girl and a boy before I caught the plague. My husband nursed me, but he got it too, and the children. I was twenty nine when I died."
"That's quite a story." Cary got two cup of nectar, and she sipped hers gratefully, recovering. "And you never guessed why it all happened?"
She looked up trustingly and shook her head. "No. Why did it happen? It's all right. Tell me. And what has it to do with multiple personality?"
"The blank periods of your life were blank because you weren't there. Someone else was in control. The boy who took you over was your twin brother. When his body died at birth, you let him share yours. Only one personality can control a body at a time, so you shared it - in shifts, if you like. You grew up a bit, then he did."
"But why didn't it go on? Why didn't he come back at twenty?"
"Because you'd become a woman. Your body decided things. He could hardly take over as a male force when you had a husband, could he? So he left."
"What happened to him?"
"He reincarnated at once, I think. And then several other times. 'Horsey,' eh? He never told me that. Wait ‘til I see him."
"See him? Do you mean he works here too?"
"Hell's bells, woman. He asked for you."
Gudrun felt confused. "I thought it was this Mr Tibbs, but he's Merican ......and he's black."
"That's just his latest incarnation. No, Mr Tibbs is your brother, right enough."
As if on cue, the door opened and there stood a man she vaguely remembered. His face lit up when he saw her, and he ran towards her hands outstretched.
"It's all right," she jerked out. "I know now."
His arms enclosed her in a full embrace. "Hullo, my love - my other half," she heard him whisper.