Danny Madison was dead and he wasn’t happy about it.
“After all,” he complained to the asexual Being seated on a throne-like structure that appeared to me made from wispy clouds, “I am – was – only twenty-six years old. It’s just not fair!”
The Being considered Danny, all five feet seven inches of denim jeans and grubby tee shirt-clad arrogance of him, through watery blue eyes that appeared to have seen everything for many millennia.
“It is all of no import now, Daniel” the Being said slowly, in a surprisingly soft, mellifluous voice.
“It might not be to you, pal!” Danny shouted, his ire roused. “Do you know I only re-taxed my car last week, for the whole bloody year! I had never done that before, ever” The last sentence came out as something of a whine.
The Being blinked slowly but said nothing.
“I’ve got, had, whatever…” Danny took a deep breath as his voice thickened and tears threatened to spill. “My wife, my baby daughter and little boy, they need me” he gasped.
“All earthly considerations are moot” the Being said kindly. “I know that it is difficult and upsetting for you to adjust, but adjust you must and will”
“But I am still young, just starting to get my shit together, you know?”
“Profanity has no place here, Daniel” the Being said firmly. “Please refrain”
“Or what?” Danny challenged, straightening his back and standing as tall as he could in his beat-up Reeboks “Gonna do something nasty to me or something?”
The look was enough to shut Danny Madison up. Although there was no palpable change in the Being, there was something about his aura that tapped into Danny’s shut-the-hell-up-if-he-knew-what-was-good-for-him gene and closed his mouth.
“Let me explain this to you one last time, Daniel” the Being said in a tone of voice that suggested that it most definitely would be the last time the subject would be broached.
“Your earthly life is at an end. All that concerned you when you were there is no longer of any concern to you. I know that sounds harsh…” The Being held up a hand to stay a further outburst from Danny, “but it is the way it is and is the way it has to be” the Being intoned solemnly.
“But it’s just not fair!” Danny swore bitterly, swinging a foot at the throne and yelping in pain when what appeared to be amorphous cloud proved to be more solid than it appeared.
“Ah, fu.., jeez!” Danny cried, falling to the surprisingly solid fluffy-looking ground and clutching his throbbing foot.
“That bloody hurt!” he said accusingly at the Being. Danny was no expert on the facial expressions of strange after-death beings but he would have sworn that the one on front of him was actually smirking!
“Time is short, Daniel. I need to be Moving On”
“What does that mean, Moving On?” Danny asked, rising gingerly to his feet, carefully testing the weight bearing capacity of his wounded foot. It passed at around eighty-five per cent, which was tolerable under the circumstances.
“I am the Guide, Daniel” the Being told the still-angry young man before him. “My role is to guide newly-arrived souls to Eternity. It is an important role and one that I have enjoyed for many eons”
“Okay, so you’re Heaven’s usher. Whoopee. What’s it got to do with me?” Danny said dismissively.
Those watery-blue eyes fixed Danny Madison with a stare so intense that Danny felt a frisson of fear work its way slowly along his spine.
“Enough!” the Being barked. “You will listen and you will understand”
Cowed into unaccustomed silence, Danny merely nodded obediently at the Being who in turn gave the merest acknowledgement of his superiority.
“As I said, Daniel, my time is short. To make it easier for you to comprehend I can tell you that I have less than one of your earth hours in which to complete my final task before Moving On”
“I still don’t understand…” Danny interjected
“My final role as Guide is to choose my successor. For that role I have selected you, Daniel Madison” the Being intoned portentously.
There was a heartbeat or two of complete silence as the Being and the recently deceased young man regarded one another. Then an obscenely loud bellow of laughter erupted from Danny’s throat.
“Oh, that’s brilliant” That is fucking brilliant!” he guffawed. “You really had me going there for a moment, pal!” he laughed, pointing accusingly at the Being. “Oh, God, that’s fantastic. What a wind –up!” He doubled over in hysteria as wave after rolling wave of laughter burst from his body.
“DANIEL MADISON!” the being roared, a sound like thunder contained in a large tin can. Danny cried out in fear and felt an embarrassing damp patch appear at the crotch of his jeans.
“I WILL have silence from you!” the Being bellowed again, this time only slightly less loudly.
“Oh, shit. Oh Christ!” Danny whimpered, falling to his knees and staring at the Being, which appeared to have grown half as big again in the past few moments.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry” he whimpered, wiping snot onto his suddenly ice-cold bare arm.
“I do not have time for your nonsense and frivolity, Daniel,” the Being said in a more reasonable tone. “We have much to discuss”
“Uh, yeah, okay. We’re cool” Danny stuttered, barely able to believe that he was still… well, not alive, obviously, but still there. “Let’s talk, then” he encouraged.
The Being regarded Danny for several long moments, seemingly debating with himself - or maybe just reconfirming that which he had previously decided upon. Those incredible eyes never left Danny for a moment, which made Danny feel a tad uncomfortable, but he wisely kept his own counsel for a change.
“You are to be my successor, Daniel Madison. You are to be the next Guide” the Being intoned formally.
“But why me?” Danny asked in a small voice. “I’m nothing special. I’m no angel that’s for sure!” he laughed half-heartedly
“You are the ideal choice, Daniel” the Being reaffirmed.
“I don’t understand, though” Danny said, clearly discomfited by the situation in which he found himself. “Surely you must be waiting for Cliff Richard or someone like that to get here?” he asked, not exactly jokingly. “I would have thought dear ol’ Mother Teresa would have been perfect” he added as an inspired afterthought.
“Daniel, understand this,” the Being intoned gravely, “the decision is made. You are to be the next Guide. Everything that you were as an earth dweller and all of those life experiences you gained there have brought you to this point and to this place. It is ordained”
“Don’t I get a say in this, then?” Danny asked, a little indignantly. “Can’t I have a word with the Big Man, you know, God?” he asked
“It is ordained, Daniel. Please accept that” the Being said. “My time is expiring”
“No, wait!” Danny cried, panicked as the Being started to fade, soon becoming translucent, losing definition. “I don’t know what to do!” he cried in despair.
“Have faith, Daniel”
The Being’s voice seemed to emanate from within Daniel, which was a strange sensation, yet calming nonetheless.
“Have faith” the voice said once more before the Being disappeared from view completely.
For long, lonely moments Danny stood and stared at the vacant throne.
“Hello?” he called out tremulously. “Hello, is anybody out there?”
His voice didn’t even echo back to him, seemingly swallowed-up and absorbed by the fluffy whiteness that surrounded him. He called out several more times before accepting that he was not going to hear an answering call.
A bone-deep weariness crept over him, tiredness so profound that Danny was sure that he could sleep for a year. The flat seat of the throne invited him onto its surface, an invitation that was accepted with alacrity. Within moments of settling himself onto the surprisingly comfortable seat, Daniel Madison slept.
The Guide awoke. There was no awareness of how long the Guide had slept. There was no remembrance of Daniel Madison or of the life Daniel Madison had known. The Guide settled into the throne and awaited the arrival of the first of the many, many souls that would need help, reassurance and guidance when they arrived at that place.