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After Life

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<MONDAY>

He appeared through the fog, fingers clutching at the straps of his backpack as he circled around to try and make sense of his surroundings.

A large white building stood before him, imposing in an otherwise barren landscape. He was compelled up the steps, entering through an open door under an archway marked out in marble: “BEVERLY TRANSITIONARY OFFICE.”

Inside the building pillars connected intricate mosaics from floor to ceiling, light shining from every direction. He was enveloped in it, and he squinted and shielded his eyes as he tried to adjust to the brightness. When he brought his hand back down, his eyes moved to a line of benches in the middle of the atrium.

Several people were seated silently. He joined them, setting his backpack on the floor at his feet and attempting to get comfortable. Out of habit, he took his phone from his pocket. A notification on his lock screen told him that he was out of network. He opened the home screen with a swipe and, sure enough, a symbol indicated that he had no signal. His screen displayed his messaging app, lips twitching slightly as he saw the last message received:

Sara
Today 10:43am
Where are you?

When he tried to check the time, to see how long he was keeping her waiting, his vision seemed to swim before him and he found himself unable to focus. Shaking the sensation away, he tapped his screen closed and pocketed his phone again.

Instead, he turned to watch the woman next to him work diligently on a crocheting project. Her gnarled hands somehow managed to maneuver the needles though they were clubbed with arthritis. She was old, very old, and he noticed with some interest that most of the others on the benches were elderly, as well.

“Excuse me,” he tried to say, but his mouth was dry and his words ended with a cough.

The woman looked over at him for only a moment before returning to her work. Swallowing, he folded his hands together in his lap and settled on staring up at the tiled ceiling. A pattern of gold was inlaid among striking blue, forming constellations in a make-believe sky. He didn’t recognize any of them.

He heard the footsteps before he saw the figure approaching, and when he lowered his gaze from the starry picture, another man stood smiling across from him.

“Shane?” asked the man, who was dressed smartly in a light-colored suit.

“Yes?” answered Shane cautiously.

“Ryan,” the man introduced himself. His dark, short-cropped hair was styled meticulously, his dark eyes round and warm. One hand was sticking out for a handshake while the other arm was encumbered by a thick manila file. “I’m your case manager.”

Case manager? Shane opened his mouth to speak, but could find no words. What was this place? The last thing he remembered was-- Well, what exactly was it? He blinked, trying to place the pieces back together.

Ryan gestured for him to stand, and so Shane did, collecting his backpack.

“Will you follow me this way?” Ryan was friendly, unthreatening, and so Shane found no reason not to go with him. As Ryan guided him through the atrium, they passed the other people waiting and down a long hallway. Along they way, they passed by several closed doors. Ryan’s office was all the way at the end.

When they entered the room, Ryan flipped a sign on the door so that it read “in session.” He closed the door behind them. The office was small, filled with shelves of antique-looking books along one side, and a desk that was stacked with several more manilla files.

They seated themselves across from each other at a pair of plush chairs under a window. Shane looked out, but the fog outside was too heavy to see much other than what may have been a tree down below.

“So,” Ryan said after a moment, shuffling a few papers in his lap and producing a pen from his pocket, filling a few things onto what seemed to be some sort of intake form. “Do you know where you are?”

Shane shook his head, still looking out the window. “Absolutely no idea,” he said lightly, as if this was normal. Ryan raised an eyebrow.

“Try and think for a moment,” Ryan’s voice was even. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

This caused Shane’s expression to harden. “I…” he stopped, making a small humming sound because he honestly did not know. “I woke up this morning,” he said finally.

“And then?”

“I guess got up and got dressed. I was excited because I didn’t have to go to work. I had the day off. And I was going to ride my bike to meet Sara for breakfast.”

“Sara?” Ryan pushed for more information, and when Shane turned his head, he saw that Ryan’s eyes were lowered, following with something written on the topmost paper.

“That’s my girlfriend,” Shane clarified. “We have this place that we like to go because it’s halfway between our apartments. So I got on my bike and…and…” He sputtered to a stop.

Ryan looked up sympathetically, tapping his pen. “The driver of the truck that hit you wasn’t paying attention to the bike lane.”

“Yeah,” Shane agreed, “I guess I didn’t have a chance.”

“No. You were gone before the ambulance arrived.”

They let that sink in for a moment. Shane closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. “So. I am dead.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

“And this is heaven?” Shane asked, skepticism clear in his voice.

“Well, no. This is the Beverly Street Transitionary Office.”

“And those papers on your lap are all the bad things I ever did in my life and you’re here to let me know if I actually get to go to Heaven?”

“No.” Ryan was calm. Shane could be calm, too. He didn’t see the point of lashing out, anyway, not even if he didn’t actually believe in Heaven or God or anything except nothingness at the end of his life, so he waited for Ryan to continue, “Heaven as you’re trying to conceptualize it does not exist. And while these papers do summarize your life, they’re not going to be used to judge you. You’re not going to Heaven, not this time. And no, before you ask, you’re not going to Hell, either.”

“Okay,” said Shane, because that Ryan didn’t look like he was joking. “Alright.”

“What you’re here to do is to prepare for reincarnation.” Ryan explained. “When you leave here, you’re going to be reborn. Because you are going to be reborn.”

This whole thing sounded absurd. Shane made a face. “Like… as my mom’s dog? I always thought it might be interesting to be reborn and live the good life getting lots of tummy rubs and sleeping for most of the day.”

Whether the sound that Ryan made was a laugh or just merely him clearing his throat in disapproval, Shane couldn’t quite tell. “No. It doesn’t work like that, either. Your soul has already made it past that stage. You’ll be reborn as a human.”

Shane looked out the window again. Though the fog  was still somewhat thick, this time he could more easily see the tree outside. From the looks of the mottled bark, it was a sycamore tree. A slight breeze swished through its branches. “And so what are you, then? Some kind of angel?”

“No,” Ryan scribbled something on his report. “I’m human, just like you.”

“And you’re dead, too?”

“Yes,” Ryan kept writing.

“You don’t look dead.”

“Neither do you,” Ryan retorted, as though he had heard this before. “Look. I know it must be… different than what you were expecting.”

Focusing away from the tree and onto his own reflection in the window, Shane grabbed at the side of his head. That was where he’d been struck, but from what he could see his head was fully intact. He really didn’t look dead, but he recalled clearly the moment of impact. There was no way he could ever have survived. His phone felt heavy in his pocket, and his fingers began to prickle as they did when he was starting to panic. “Is Sara… does she know I’m dead?”

“Yes, Shane. She knows.”

“So, I’m never going to see her again?” Shane quieted, feeling the realization sink heavy in his stomach for the first time.

This time, Ryan stopped writing. He capped his pen. “No. No, you’re not. She will go on living.”

As happened so frequently when Shane felt a flood of emotions coming on, he turned himself off, squaring his jaw. There was no way he was letting some stranger, some weird ghost (which he hadn’t even believed existed) who’d identified himself as a goddamn case manager, watch him get upset.

He folded his arms over his chest and shifted in his chair. “You mentioned that I’d be ‘preparing’ for reincarnation. What exactly does that entail?”

“Think back on all of your memories, Shane, all the memories that you’ve ever had in your whole life.”

“What about them?” The words were cold. He didn’t want to do this. Not now.

“It’s okay to be upset,” Ryan affirmed, “You weren’t prepared for death, and that--”

Unwilling to let the conversation delve into what he was or wasn’t prepared for, Shane interrupted. “What about them?”

Ryan watched him with a flicker of something else in his eyes. There was still kindness and understanding on a surface level, but was it annoyance? Like he was trying to explain something to a child? Or was it fatigue? Shane wondered how long Ryan had been on the job, so to speak.

“Is there any memory you can think of that doesn’t quite, well, doesn’t quite fit? You’re not exactly sure how it got there?”

The question momentarily quelled Shane’s building resentment. “Honestly… yes?”

“And whose memories are those? Are they your memories?”

“How should I know? Whose memories would they be?”

Ryan tapped his foot, eyebrows raised. “Reflect on that. This week, we are going to work on something together. You’re going to need to choose a memory, one memory, to take with you on the next stage of your journey.”

“A memory?”

“Yes.”

“One memory,” Shane finally allowed himself to look confused. He slunk back into his chair.  “Why?”

“Well, simply put, we’re going to reconstruct it for you, so that you can take it with you.”

The upbeat tone in which Ryan spoke caused his temper to flare, but Shane managed to keep his voice courteous. “Reconstruct my memory? How?”

“Usually we recreate it on camera so that you can watch it, like a short film.”

Shane raised his eyebrows. “So I get my own mini-Cannes and after I watch it I’m outta here and onto the next life?”

“Uh… right,” Ryan nodded, though he didn’t seem to have gotten the film festival reference. “We do it because the experience has been found to be more vividly received that way.”

“And how exactly is this proven?” Shane asked, pinching at the skin of his inner elbow. He wasn’t going to punch this guy, he wasn’t going to punch this guy. He wasn’t.  

When Ryan did not respond, Shane rolled his eyes.

Perhaps sensing defeat, Ryan stood up and closed Shane’s file. He placed it ontop of the pile on his desk. “Why don’t I show you where you’re going to stay this week, while we have you with us? Then maybe you’d like some time to yourself to start to think?”

“Yeah,” Shane shrugged his shoulders, tone sounding as unauthentic as it felt. “Wonderful. Sounds great.” He grabbed his backpack and once again made to follow Ryan.

They stopped just before the door again, Ryan turning to him. He was shorter than Shane by quite a bit and up close, Shane could see that while he looked young at first glance, something about Ryan felt so, well, old.

“It’s going to be okay, Shane. I promise.”

Shane didn’t believe him.

Chapter Text

<TUESDAY>

Watercooler talk was always a part of the Tuesday morning routine. Ryan was just filling up his mug as Jen came into the staff lounge. She waved at him, her energy overtaking the room. Despite her petite frame, she had the biggest personality of any of the case managers at the Beverly Street Office.

“Happy Tuesday!” she said with an expression that would have looked far too chipper on anyone else. Her short hair bounced as she nodded to the coffee in Ryan’s hands. “Uh-oh, you’ve got your big-boy cup out already?”

It was just like Jen to call him out this way, and she was right: even though it was still early in the week, he had chosen the biggest mug in the cupboard.

“Who have you been assigned to?” Ryan asked, words somewhat muddled as he sipped. The coffee was a little hotter than he’d been expecting and he winced. If Jen noticed, she didn’t acknowledge that he was trying to change the subject.

“I actually got a double assignment this week,” she shrugged, unperturbed. Double and even triple assignments were not unheard of. “Mrs. Martinez, 81, and Mrs. Tanimoto, 78. Mrs. Martinez is going to be pretty cut and dry, since she has so few memories left, anyway, and Mrs. Tanimoto was already pretty vividly able to describe what she wants, so unless we have a hard time getting our hands resources that shouldn’t be too bad, either.”

When Ryan only nodded approvingly, she raised an eyebrow, “Don’t you have the 31-year-old? The bike crash guy? How did that go? The kitchen staff said he didn’t show up to dinner last night.”

She plucked her mug from the drying rack and began to fix herself some tea.

“He’s the reclusive type, so really I don’t know,” Ryan admitted, looking up to the ceiling to gather his words. He swirled his coffee, as if it would help the liquid cool more quickly. “I don’t think he’s gotten past the denial phase. I tried going over his file last night since talking didn’t get us anywhere, but I’m pretty much at a loss. It’s not like he led a boring life, but I don’t think he’s going to want to go the normal route and make my job any easier. I’ve got a list of, like, maybe five suggestions?”

Finished filling her mug with warm water, Jen cradled it in her hands, holding it close to her body as if she needed the warmth. “I mean, that’s all you can do. Trying to get anyone on board when they’re resisting like that is never easy, but you’ve been doing this for a long time. I know you-- it’ll be fine once you crack that hard exterior.”

Ryan smirked, already starting for his office. “Thanks for your confidence.”

"Go get him, tiger!” was the last thing Ryan heard as he exited the lounge.

***

When Shane did not show up in his office for their scheduled morning session, Ryan went searching. He found Shane under the sycamore tree in the courtyard, the same courtyard that was visible from his office window.

Shane was sitting on the bench with his hands clasped together in his lap. Judging from his half lidded eyes, Shane had gotten little, if any, sleep over the night. He was wearing his sweater over the same cotton pajamas all of the recently-deceased had been issued, along with his knit cap and glasses.

“Hey,” Ryan offered. “You forget about our session?”

Though he’d spoken loudly enough that his presence was unmistakable, Shane did not look up to greet him. “Is it that time already? My phone isn’t working.” To emphasize this, Shane nodded to the phone lying on the bench next to him.

“This place kind of messes with technology. Did you hear those chimes over the PA system this morning? Remember how I told you yesterday that when you heard those chimes, you should go to breakfast? And then the chimes after that would mean it was time to come see me?”

“Oh, right. No, sorry, I guess I forgot all that.”

Ryan couldn’t help the irritation building in his gut. This would be so much easier without Shane’s passive, defeatist attitude. He kept his exterior professional, though, smiling with an expression that he hoped would be perceived as empathetic. “If outside is better for you, I’m good with talking here, instead.”

With a subtle twitching of his eyebrow, Shane finally looked up to address Ryan. “Don’t see what there is to talk about, really.”

“I’m sure we’ll find something. Here, move over.” Ryan insisted, and was a little relieved when Shane made space for him on the bench. Plunking himself down, he concentrated on where Shane was staring off into the distance, through the fog.

That fog was impenetrable, Ryan knew for a fact.

He wondered if Shane had tried walking through it only to end up back where he’d started. Some tried escaping back to the real world, but no one was ever successful.

“Have you thought about a memory?” Ryan asked.

Next to him, Shane shifted, rubbing his eyes. Sliding his fingers underneath his glasses, he shook his head with a lazy yawn. “You read my file. Aren’t you going to offer me some suggestions?”

“No,” Ryan said a little too quickly, and hoped immediately that he didn’t sound too defensive, considering that’s exactly what he’d been planning on doing. “No. You have to be the one to choose.”

“Huh,” Shane nodded. He resumed his watch on the fog.

“Shane,” Ryan started, but stopped again to gather his words. In the past, he’d found that calculated silence was an effective focusing tool. When he thought he had Shane’s full attention, he continued. “I have a question about something in your file.”

Though his body language was anything but receptive, Shane did not put up a fight. “Go ahead.”

“When you were alive, you were on a few medications… for your mood.”

“Yep,” Shane said flatly.

“So, would you say that you had some issues with depression?”

“I did.”

“Why do you think that is?”

Expression sour, Shane clenched his teeth. “How should I know? My therapist told me it was just a chemical imbalance, and that it wasn’t so unusual? But who knows. I had a lot of regrets, things I wished that I would have done differently Does that carry over if I’m reincarnated?”

“The regrets themselves will be forgotten, but the brain chemistry… I’ll be honest with you. You inherited it and you’ll pass it along, too, unless we can get to the root of your problems and choose a memory positive enough to help combat them.”

“‘The root of my problems,’” Shane echoed darkly, brow creasing. “What if I don’t want to be reincarnated? Is oblivion an option?”

Thoughts this morbid were not common among those who Ryan had helped in the past, and he frowned, a bit ashamed at himself for having found Shane as an annoyance. He was a challenge, yes, but the put-on attitude was not from anger or spite. Fear and self-loathing seemed to be what was actually driving Shane’s lack-of-cooperation.

“No, Shane. It’s not. You took a walk in the fog this morning, didn’t you?”

Shane nodded. “This place is effed up.” He sighed. “I wanted to leave.”

Fingers gripping the seat of the bench, Ryan inhaled. “I know.” He did know. He knew all too well. “Did you like Los Angeles?”

As if considering the question, Shane squinted. “Did I like Los Angeles? Not really. More exciting than little ole’ Schaumburg, Illinois, I guess. And I had Sara and a job that did me okay. But it was crowded and fake and expensive.”

“What made you happy?”

“About Los Angeles?”

“About anything.”

Shane shifted his position on the bench, stretching his legs out so that his heels rested against the brick of the garden path. “Stupid stuff. Days when I could stay in bed all day. Online sessions of Dungeons & Dragons with my friends from college. Watching Sara draw. Being with Sara. Being by myself, too, sometimes.”

“How did you meet Sara?” asked Ryan.

“Isn’t that already in my file?”

“Well, yes, it is. But I’d like for you to tell me.”

When Shane took in a deep breath, Ryan held in his own. “Not much of a story, really. We worked in the same office, producing video content for the internet. She was sweet and shy and I was a goofball and for whatever reason she thought I was an okay-enough guy to say yes when I asked her out to have dinner.”

It felt like they were on the verge of progressing, like Shane was beginning to open up.

“But if I have to choose a memory, I don’t want it to be about her.”

The admission came as a surprise to Ryan. He wet his lips, frowning. “And why is that?”

“Sara was my best friend in Los Angeles, and she was an awesome girlfriend. But,” Shane stopped, wrestling with what words to choose. “I know that we wouldn’t have lasted forever. There was… there was too much going on for both of us. She was going to go back to the East Coast eventually, and wasn’t going to go with her.”

“I see,” Ryan said.

“We were good at keeping each other company. And we were okay like that,” Shane admitted. “There are worse relationships. We were pragmatic.”

Chimes rang out through the courtyard, disrupting the conversation.

“Lunch,” Ryan said, simply, wishing that the timing had been different.

“If we’re dead,” Shane asked, “Why are we expected to take time for meals?”

“It’s good to keep a routine. And it helps to break up the day.”

The door out into the courtyard opened, and there was Jen, pushing her weight against it. “There you are!” She said to Ryan, then smiled at Shane, too. “Come inside and get something to eat?”

They stood and followed her in, and as they did, Shane caught Ryan’s arm and said quietly: “Let’s not talk about her anymore.”

Knowing that Shane meant Sara, Ryan nodded agreeably. “Alright.”

The door swung closed heavily behind them.

Chapter Text

<WEDNESDAY>

The battery had drained out of Shane’s cell phone completely, and he didn’t bother trying to plug it in, even though he had a charger in his backpack and there was an outlet in his room. He didn’t need to look at his phone, not when he couldn’t text or connect to the internet. He’d spent some time looking through his photos, but the life portrayed in them was no longer his reality, so he failed to see the point of keeping that kind of behavior up for too long.

He was dead. This was limbo. He had to choose a memory or else… Or else what?

The room they’d provided for him was nicer than a lot of hotels he’d stayed at when he was alive, but it was almost too clean. Sterile. Mostly, everything was white. White bedlinens, white furniture, white walls, white fog out the window. And it was bare. No pictures on the wall, no decorations, no indication of who had stayed there in the past.

Shane showered and dried himself with the plush white towel. He combed his hair, put in his contacts, and dressed. Feeling like the space did not belong to him, he tidied up after himself as he went. He folded the white pajamas they’d given him and set them neatly on the corner of his bed. While he was brushing his teeth, the chimes had sounded for breakfast.

As he made his way downstairs, he was flanked on all sides by other souls ( is that what they were? ) also heading for breakfast. Shane took a place at a one of the few two-seater dining tables positioned along the perimeter of the room.

Along the other wall, a large chalkboard had the day’s schedule laid out. Breakfast, morning stretches, morning interview, lunch, bingo, craft activity, afternoon interview*, dinner, cocktails/desserts, bed. Off to the side of this itinerary there was a neatly drawn square above which was written neatly in all caps “TODAY’S FILMING SCHEDULE.” There were a few names, and they must have been the names of some of the people sitting around him. His name was absent from the list. It made sense. He hadn’t picked a memory and those on the list probably had.

Shane wondered what the asterisk after “afternoon interview” meant but thought it must have been only for those who, like him, had not yet been able to choose.

“This seat taken?”

Ryan had snuck in, hand on the back of the empty chair across from him. He was dressed casually today in a white and gray striped t-shirt and jeans.

“No, by all means, go ahead.” Shane gestured, a little too grandly to remind Ryan that he was not fully cooperative. Ryan was nice, but Shane resented feeling like a project. Would Shane get Ryan into trouble if he didn’t follow the rules?

“So where does the filming happen?” Shane asked, motioning to the chalkboard as Ryan sat down.

Ryan poured himself a cup of ice water from a pitcher on the table. “Oh, we have a couple of sound stages here. Would you be interested in a tour later?”

“Sure, why not?”

“You could probably give us some pointers,” Ryan smiled, alluding to the fact that Shane had been a video producer when he was alive. “Some of us have been doing this job for a long time and are too stubborn to learn how to use new technology.”

Despite knowing that he should be annoyed by Ryan’s toothy grin, Shane found it didn’t bother him as much today as it had yesterday. He thanked Ryan quietly as Ryan slid a second glass of water over to him. “Do you shoot digitally?”

“No,” Ryan said, “Everything is done on film.”

A waiter delivered two plates of breakfast: eggs, toast, bacon and fruit. Shane wondered if the food was real-- if any of this place was real. He guessed it probably wasn’t. After all, how could it be? He tried not to analyze too much as he began to eat.

“I don’t know how useful I would be then. Unless maybe you’re hiring, in which case I guess I could revamp your whole system and streamline things so that you could get people in and out of here in three days instead of seven!”

He sounded like a jerk, he knew, but he didn’t care. Ryan took a bite of bacon with his bare fingers, not even glorifying the sarcastic comment by acknowledging it.

“How exactly did you get this job, anyway?” Shane asked. 

Ryan shrugged, “Long story,” he said. “And not really that exciting.”

They ate, neither of them saying more. Ryan seemed to be enjoying the ambiance of the dining room, and his eyes flitted around to observe how the others in the room were conducting themselves. He and Jen, the girl that had come to find them in the courtyard yesterday, and another of the “case managers” (Shane hated this verbiage) had explained that they usually didn’t eat together with the newly dead. What had brought Ryan to breakfast with him? Desperation?

“What happens if I decide I am not going to choose a memory?” Shane asked in between bites of food. Eating didn’t make him full, because he wasn’t even hungry before he started eating. This was more like going through the motions. It’s good to keep a routine , he had remembered Ryan telling him yesterday.

Ryan frowned. He wiped his fingers on his cloth napkin. “You don’t get to leave. You have to stay here.”

“That makes no sense.”

“That’s the truth,” Ryan wasn’t smiling.

“Is that why you’re here? Because you didn’t choose? And then they just put you to work?”

Ryan pushed his plate aside. He was expressionless as he spoke, a little too calmly. “Would you really want to stay here indefinitely? You told me yesterday that you wanted to get out of here, remember?”

“It’s not really my favorite option, but it sounds better than having to start all over again.”

“Most people are excited for a chance at a new beginning,” Ryan said evenly.

Shrugging his shoulders, Shane did a once-over of the dining room. “Most people here are trapped in bodies that have given up on them. Reincarnation must sound like a great option! To me it just sounds exhausting.”

“Come tour the studios with me today and you’ll see. Your memory doesn’t have to be epic, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“That is absolutely not what I am worried about, thank you. But why not? I’ll come see where you all make the magic happen, so to speak. Just don’t think you’re going to be able to change my mind.”

 

***

 

As Shane had predicted, the tour did nothing to alter his decision.

He met a few of Ryan’s colleagues. Jen, who he had met only briefly the day before, had been especially friendly with him. He had also been introduced to Andrew and Quinta, who had both been courteous, as well, letting him ask questions while he observed them shooting a video for an old man whose memory Quinta was handling.

Their cameras had seemed ancient, and did require actual film. Had the circumstances been different, Shane would have been fascinated. As it was, the visit to the studio had made him slightly cranky.

“What did you think about Mr. Harcomb’s memory?” Ryan questioned once they had left the recording area. They walked together down a hallway that looked like all the other hallways. “A lot of people choose something simple like that. Finding a beautiful shell at the beach and sharing it with his little sister is simple, yet conveys so much about what was important to him in that life.”

There had even been actors at the shoot, two young children. “Do the kids work here, too?”

“Kids? Oh!” Ryan shook his head, “No. Those were cherubs.”

“Right,” Shane held his hands up in the air. “Of course. My bad.”

The sarcastic, self-effacing tone made Ryan laugh. It was a strange laugh, more just an amused puff of air from his nose, as if he knew that he shouldn’t be going along with Shane’s deviant behavior. Shane liked the sound despite wanting not to. Ryan looked more alive when he laughed, imperfect.

Seeing Ryan’s neutral exterior crack made Shane feel a little bit less like a patient, like it evened the playing field just a bit.

“You guys had some cool tricks for transforming the set into a beach like that, no green screen or anything. But your process takes so long.” Shane said. “It’s kind of impractical. You really need to bite the bullet and invest in some ALEXAs or something.”

At that moment, Shane remembered that his backpack had come with him. “Hey. I have my T6i in my stuff, and my laptop. If I shot something, I could show you how easy it is. I know that you said this place messes with technology, but I have a feeling that this would be different. All I would need is a dependable power source.”

“And what would you shoot?” Ryan questioned.

“I don’t know.”

“How about your memory, then?”

This brought Shane back to his senses. He shook his head. “Nah. I don’t think so.”

They had stopped in the hall close to the atrium. Shane peeked out into its beautiful, open expanse. He hadn’t seen it since the first day, before he knew he was dead, but now he could focus on it clearly. It seemed even more beautiful than before. Today, the waiting area was deserted.

“I think I want to do some still-life work. I could shoot in there.”

Ryan considered this, “Sure, if you’d like. No one uses the gathering hall except on Mondays and Sundays.”

“Why Sundays?”

“This is where we’ll screen the finished memories.”

Frowning, Shane narrowed his eyes. “And then next Monday the cycle repeats and you’ll be managing a new case?”

“Yes,” Ryan agreed, “Like it or not I guess that’s how it goes.”

Shane wheeled his body around, taking a couple steps toward the atrium. “What if I filmed you?”

Sticking to his spot, Ryan let Shane wander further away. “And why would you want to do that?”

“I don’t know. Turn the tables?”

Stopping to consider the pros and cons to this arrangement, Ryan finally answered: “Okay. If I let you shoot me, then you have to promise to pick a memory and let us shoot you.”

“Deal,” Shane agreed, though Ryan didn’t know that he was crossing his toes inside his shoes.