The Haunted Hearse
"Room for another small one inside?" the newly-dead ghost asked.
"Actually, no." a grumpy-sounding older voice said. "We’re full to the brim as it is."
"Well, sorry and all that, but it is my funeral. That’s my corpse in the coffin there."
"Oh, for goodness sake!" a screechy-voiced female exclaimed. "Move up, will you. Let him in."
There followed many moments of grunts, groans, ‘oofs’ and ‘arghs’ before the new ghost could squeeze himself into the tiniest space that had been created for him.
"Thank you all very much." he said with genuine gratitude. "It would not have been right to have missed my own funeral now, would it?" he laughed.
None of the other couple of dozen or so ghosts crammed into the limited available space in the back of the hearse laughed with him.
"Did I say something wrong or out of turn?" he asked.
"What’s your name, man?" a voice with a distinct Jamaican accent to it asked.
"Would you believe my parents named me Dilbert Scott Adams?" the ghost replied, again trying to inject a little levity into the situation.
It was wasted effort.
"Well, Dilbert Scott Adams, man. You seem to find this all, what, funny, man?" the Jamaican said, sounding ever-so-slightly threatening to the recently introduced Dilbert Scott Adams.
"Well, what else can you do?" Adams asked. "We’re dead. No point in being miserable, is there?"
"You’re wrong, there." a youthful-looking girl said. "You try being stuck in this damn thing for months on end then see how cheerful you are then."
"She’s right, old chap.’ another said, a middle-aged man about the same age as Adams.
"I don’t understand. Why are you all here? Why haven’t you passed over; gone into the Light? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?"
"You really don’t know anything, do you?" the grumpy-sounding voice who had spoken first said.
"I’m sorry," Dilbert Scott Adams apologised. "I’ve been dead only a week. I’m still trying to, you know, get used to the idea."
"Ah, for crying out loud!" Screechy-Voiced woman yelped. "Another bloody wanderer!"
"Be quiet, Fiona. Even you had to learn. As I recall it took you much longer to learn the ropes than anyone else here."
The voice was female, cultured and pleasant on the ear.
"Yeah, so what?" the one addressed as Fiona challenged.
"’So what’, nothing. All I am saying is that we each of us had to learn everything from scratch. This poor chap is just the latest in a long line of us who is starting out."
"I’m sorry, Miss..?" Adams prompted.
"Oh, please excuse my manners. I’m Lady Annabel Lamport. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"What ropes do I have to learn, Lady Lamport?" Adams asked.
"Just how to get along here, in this horrible hearse. And please, do call me Annabel Titles are so unnecessary under these circumstances."
"Yes, of course. Sorry." Adams mumbled, abashed.
A few moments of silence ensued during which about a thousand questions flitted through what passed for Dilbert Scott Adams’ mind. Only one seemed to be of any import at that moment, however.
"I’m sorry, but I have to ask," he began.
"Give it rest, man." Jamaican accent said irritably.
"Please, Leroy, allow the man to speak." the cultured tones of Lady Annabel Lamport asked.
"Thank you, Lady…, err, Annabel." Adams said.
"What I was going to ask is…,"
"Why we’re all here, right?" screechy-voiced Fiona interrupted rudely. "They all ask that, don’t they."
She cackled unpleasantly, sounding not unlike a witch in a really bad horror movie.
"Well, of course they do!" a deeply masculine voice said. "What the bloody hell do you expect?"
"I didn’t. I was too scared." a small voice, possibly a child’s, said nervously.
"We are all here, Dilbert, because we either have unfinished business that we need to attend to or we have a penance to serve." Lady Annabel said gently.
"Goodness!" Dilbert exclaimed."How many…, I mean, how long…?" Flummoxed, words dried-up on his tongue and he fell silent.
"There was thirty-two of last count," another male voice said, "but Clarence passed-over a couple of days back."
"Thirty-one spirits, ghosts? In this small space?" Adams gasped.
"That’s about the size of it, yes." yet another male voice said.
"Oh, dear me!"
Another pregnant silence fell.
Dilbert Scott Adams, recently deceased and his mortal remains not yet buried was taken aback at the wholly unforeseen and unsuspected turn of events that had befallen him. His upbringing had prepared him for the afterlife, sitting at God’s right hand and the like. Nothing in his mortal experience had so much as hinted the situation he found himself in.
"I still do not understand – don’t fully understand – why all of you are here, in this car; this hearse, crammed together like sardines." Adams said.
The grumpy-sounding man who had spoken first and had not spoken since decided to have his say.
"Our families and loved ones all used this firm of funeral directors to send us on our way." he said in a more conciliatory tone. "As far as all of us can tell, that is the only connection we have to one another."
A murmur of agreement went around the car.
"Obviously not every dead body that is carried in this car leaves its spirit behind…, does it?" Adams asked, worriedly.
"Heavens, no!" Lady Annabel laughed. "As cramped and as bad as it is that would be simply intolerable!"
Another murmur of agreement.
"So why some and not others?" Adams asked.
"Good question, mate." a youthful voice chimed in."We don’t know. We just end up here." a pleasant female voice that had a distinct antipodean twang to it sighed. "More than two years I’ve been here. I am so tired. I just want to pass over."
"Hang in there, Merlene. It can’t be long now, girl." one of the earlier male voices encouraged.
"Two years?! Is that, err, normal?" Adams asked.
"There is no such thang as ‘normal’ here, don’t you get it!" an angry voice spat. "Do you think this is bloody normal, you idiot!"
The scolding tone was that of a mother berating a recalcitrant child.
"My apologies, Mister Adams. My Eric has little patience, I’m afraid. That’s partly the reason we ended up here."
"I was not driving too fast, for crying out loud!" Eric remonstrated. "The other car was in the middle of the bloody road!"
"Oh, not this argument again!" Fiona complained loudly.
"Don’t start, Fiona!" another voice warned.
"Please, please. I’m sorry. I never meant to cause an argument." Dilbert Scott Adams said in a panicky tone.
"Don’t you worry about it mate. This argument breaks out a least once a week, don’t it?" a cocky, jocular voice said from the far back of the car. "Ol’ Eric and his ma, they are the bleedin’ resident entertainment they are!" the voice laughed.
This time, several others joined in the good-natured laughter.
"As you can tell, it can get rather fraught at times in these cramped conditions." Lady Annabel said.
"So I see." Adams said quietly.
"Have you been waiting, you know, long to pass over?" he asked.
"A couple of months now. Unfortunately I didn’t die at home. I was holidaying at my villa on the Algarve when my heart gave out on me." Lady Annabel answered.
"I’m sorry." Adams said.
"Me too. I had just opened a new bottle of vintage Rioja. I never even got to taste it!" Lady Annabel laughed.
"How unfortunate indeed." wine lover Adams agreed, smiling for the first time since he had awoken in the hearse.
"Ah, we’re here. This is where my family plot is: Castle View Cemetery and Crematorium. My funeral is about to take place." he said.
"Oi mate!" a loud man’s voice called out, "If yer make through, put in a good word for us, will ya?"
"I’m sorry? I don’t understand."
"He means that a few times spirits have arrived here, just like you, on their way to their own funeral and passed over as soon as the formalities have concluded. You might get lucky, too, that’s all".
The voice was educated, old and weary-sounding.
"Thank you. Let’s hope, eh?" Adams said.
The atmosphere in the cramped hearse had subtly changed, from irritation and discomfort to one of tense expectation.
"If it happens," Lady Annabel warned, "it will be sudden. You’ll barely have time to say another word."
Silence descended in the car. Outside, on an unseasonable pleasant October day with sunshine and a light breeze playfully dancing amongst the reds and golds of fallen leaves, Reverend Orson conducted the sending-off ceremony of the remains of Dilbert Scott Adams with all the solemnity and dignity required of him.As the service drew to a close and his wife, son and two daughters picked up a handful each of loose dirt to scatter on the coffin in its grave setting a strange feeling began to ripple through Adams.
"You are glowing, Dilbert!" Lady Annabel said, smiling broadly.
"I feel strange." Adams said.
"Don’t ferget, mate!" Loud Voice shouted as Dilbert Scott Adams’ appearance became diaphanous-thin before disappearing in the blink of an eye.
"He’s gone." Jamaican accent man said.
"Lucky sod." an irritated Fiona said. "Why him, huh?"
On the ‘other side’ Dilbert Scott Adams awoke again… and found himself in a large waiting-room full of hundreds of souls. It strongly resembled the ticket-hall of a railway station…
Author Notes: AFTERWORD: This started life as a stand-alone story. However, the opportunity to link it in to my earlier story 'The Final Reckoning' was too good to resist. Although not strictly a 'prequel' it can be read in conjunction with that story or, as intended, a story in its own right.