But not the fearful kind. Not the kind that Hollywood instills in young minds, the kind where the doomed soul goes screaming down the hallway, clawing and scratching, fingernails rolling back against the hardwood floor in terrified strain. Not the kind where the screen fills with crimson and black and horrible dread comes crushing down like an endless depth.
None of that.
He’s floating. Not weightless, not without form or presence. Simply there. Simply existing. The lack of weight comes from a lack of pressure, a lack of worry or commitment. A total lack of fear. He turns to look, somewhat ironic since he already knows his place, and sees what he always knew was there. The silly jokes weren’t far off when it came to the Pearly Gates. Light shines, clouds shimmer, and a man stands with a book in waiting.
The man approaches.
“Do you wish to enter?” the gatekeeper asks.
“There’s a choice?” he responds, surprised both in the option and in his own asking.
“Of course. There’s always choice,” the gatekeeper replies. “Existence is choice, through and through, from beginning to end.”
The man pauses with thought. “What are the options?”
The gatekeeper turns and waves a hand. “Entry, for one, as you’ve likely expected. Or rescind.”
The man can’t help but smile. “You mean—”
“I do,” the gatekeeper says with a sly smile in return, his all-knowing state giving privy to the man’s mind. The man laughs, and the gatekeeper laughs with him, and together they share a moment of absolute joy. Eventually, the laughter plays out.
“How far can I go with option two?” the man asks.
“As far as you’d like, though I don’t recommend anything too serious,” the gatekeeper says. “Some go too dark, and they return disappointed. The mortal mind is fragile, after all. Do you really want to scare your friends and family to death? Haunting wails and rattling chains and all that?”
“No,” the man says without hesitation. “Of course not.” He pauses, considering again. “But I’d like to do more than watch. I’d like to help, you know? Interact.”
“I’d like to let them know I still care, that I’m still with them,” the man says, not noticing the gatekeeper’s intuition. “Is there a ‘Casper’ category? A friendly ghost?”
“No,” the gatekeeper says. “But there’s something close. May I interest you in an orb?”
The man squints with question. “Orb?”
The gatekeeper nods. “You can give sensations of calm. You can see your loved ones and be there with them and touch their souls just enough to put a slight ease to their pain. Not enough to end the suffering, of course, no spirit can do that. But enough to take the edge off.”
“And I appear as an orb?” the man asks.
“From time to time, in chance photos, but only in the pictures that matter most. And you’ll only be noticed by those you truly love. They’ll doubt what it means, seeing a faint spot in the photo, but deep down they’ll know. They’ll remember the moment and how they felt, and they’ll know you were there. Nothing so substantial it can be proven, but not a voice in the world will be able to convince them otherwise.”
The man considers. “Wasn’t this in a movie once?”
“More than once,” the gatekeeper says. “Fiction draws its inspiration from reality.”
Without skipping a beat, the man answers. “I’ll do that then. Send me back.” He hesitates. “How long will I be gone?”
“As long as you like,” the gatekeeper says, “though most return after a few years. They help their family through their grief, see to it they find peace, then come home before witnessing their final years.”
Shimmering and already losing his form, the man asks a final question. “What happens to the orbs that stay too long?”
The gatekeeper, knowing the man’s thoughts and fears and deepest concerns, stares for a long moment in silence. “You’ll see for yourself.”
And the man disappears.