That question helped create the first of my Afterlife Series, Eternally Yours, and is now propelling me toward The End of Book II, In Your Dreams. In Eternally Yours, I introduced Jodie Devlin, who committed suicide and winds up in a strange place on the other side. Here's a snippet:
“Next! Yoo-hoo? Next!”
Jodie snapped alert at the snotty woman’s prompt. Where was she? Was this hell?
Blinking, she studied the polished golden marble walls and floor. Red velvet ropes with brass fittings encased her in a serpentine line along with a host of other barely attentive people. Each figure—male or female, tall or short, fat or thin—wore a diaphanous lavender toga. When she looked at her own body, she saw the same garment draping her limbs, soft as spun spider webs.
They stood in a tremendous reception area of what might have been a five-star hotel lobby. Deep mahogany wood framed the glass elevators and a wraparound railing one story above her. Although a dozen doors broke up the monotony of solid walls, none held an exit sign or window which might lend a clue to her whereabouts. From the ceiling, at least a hundred stories up, chandeliers dripped filaments of colored light like purple rain. Was she in Prince’s house? Oh, God, this was hell!
But no. Behind her, a waterfall, surrounded by lush ferns and majestic palm trees, splashed cool mist into primavera air. Men and women, garbed in white uniforms with gold braid, raced around life-sized white marble statues of angels, unicorns, and smiling dragons.
“Neeeee-exxxxt!” The woman’s voice turned the one syllable word into two.
Jodie’s gaze flew to a long reception desk with ten clerks behind and nine customers in front. A dark-haired, sloe-eyed woman in the same white and gold uniform leaned forward from the open slot and signaled to Jodie with a crooked finger. Confusion dogging her steps, she inched forward. The woman’s attention veered to a computer monitor and keyboard, fingers clickety-clacking with expediency. “Name?”
“Jodie Devlin,” she replied through dry lips.
“Any middle initial?”
The woman frowned. “Date of death?”
She almost answered with her birth date, but then stopped to think. “Date of…” A lump rose in her throat, and she swallowed with difficulty. “…death?”
Over the polished mahogany top, the woman’s hands rolled in mid-air. “Can we speed this up, please? There are a thousand people behind you. What was your date of death?”
“The eighth of A-April.”
Brow cocked, the clerk sighed. “You’re not on my reservations list. Are you sure you’re supposed to be here?”
Was she? She had absolutely no idea. After another glance at the marble and mahogany décor, the crowds of lost sheep, and the harried attendants, she leaned over the counter to whisper, “Ummm…where exactly is here?”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Palms against the marble edge, the woman pushed away from the keyboard. Her barstool-style wheeled chair skidded across the floor. Leaning, she slammed a large red button on a table behind her. “Sherman? I think I’ve got a thirty-six-slash-eleven over here.” She rolled back behind the counter, eyes narrowed. “Are you, perhaps, a suicide?”
Heat rocketed into Jodie’s cheeks—did she have cheeks? Whatever she had, embarrassment shot flames through her face. She managed a slight nod, and then turned away.
Through the milling crowd, a small man, only about as high as her shoulder and narrow as a swizzle stick, strode toward her. He was garbed entirely in white except for the gold studs winking in his earlobes. Despite the snow white clipboard he clutched under one arm, he extended his hands in greeting. “Miss? My name is Sherman, and I’m the spirit guide here. How can I help you?”
He had a face like an apple left too long on a windowsill, ruddy bronze with sunken cheeks, wizened to a state that made him appear ancient, yet ageless. Long white hair, a lion’s mane, swept away from his high forehead and fell to his padded shoulders.
“She doesn’t have a reservation,” the woman said with a sneer. “At least not for her current date of death.”
Understanding dawned on his mushy face. “Ah. Miss…?”
“Devlin.” Jodie’s reply sounded hoarse in her sandpaper throat. Swallowing, she tried again. “Jodie Devlin.”
“Miss Devlin, why don’t you step away from the reception desk so we can continue moving others forward? If you’ll follow me, I’m sure we can straighten this out.” Without waiting for her reply, he turned to head back into the crowd.
I revisit this area, known as the Welcome Level, time and time again in these Afterlife stories. In fact, here's a sneak peek of a similar scene from In Your Dreams, where bounty hunter Sean arrives with his latest spirit, a former female impersonator who goes by the stage name, Mercedes Bends:
With one final spin of electrical cyclonic energy, Sean touched down and guided Mercedes to a stop beside him. As always, the Welcome Level of the Afterlife roared with activity. New spirits lined up inside the velvet-roped queue that snaked around in front of the long white marble Reception Desk. Busy clerks behind the desk processed the incoming with assembly-line speed. The occasional staccato call of “Next!” resounded like gunfire in the cavernous marble lobby.
Amethyst crystals, suspended from the sky-high ceiling on silver filaments, winked with light. Water splashed into fountains shaped like unicorns, angels, and winged horses, saturating the vanilla-scented air with spring mist.
Like the local yokel experiencing the big city for the first time, Mercedes Bends gaped and gawked, craning his neck to look up, down, around the porcelain statues, past the throng of dazed newcomers, up to the numerous floors towering hundreds of stories overhead. “Oh, my.”
Yeah, yeah. Sean, long accustomed to the hustle and bustle here, simply pulled the man…woman…bounty along. “Come on. This way.”
One hand clutching the bounty’s arm, he meandered around the lost sheep waiting to be processed, but stopped dead when he caught sight of a familiar profile among the newcomers. The kid. He stiffened. It couldn’t be. Coincidence, right? Yet, that hawk nose, strong chin, slender build, and screw-you-attitude all matched up. He’d have to get a closer look, see the guy straight on, rather than from the back, to be sure.
“Sean!” The Afterlife’s top spirit guide, Sherman, strode forward, ivory hair flowing behind him as if he posed for the cover of a romance novel. He wore his usual white suit with gold braid embellishing the padded shoulders. His ever-present clipboard sat snugly tucked beneath one armpit. Expectancy glowed in the ageless geezer’s marble eyes.
“Sherman,” Sean greeted him with a terse nod, gaze still glued to that unique buzz cut and pimpled neck in the crowd.
“Splendid to see you’ve returned from your hunt, successful again,” Sherman enthused.
“Uh-huh.” All he wanted now was to hand over the goods so he could catch up with the kid on line. Was it him? Really? He was too far away to be one hundred percent sure. Sweat broke out on his palms, and a high-pitched buzz filled his head.
Apparently unaware of Sean’s discomfort, Sherman addressed Harris…Mercedes. “Ms. Bends, I’m delighted to make your acquaintance. My name is Sherman, and I’m here to assist you with your transition. If there’s anything I can do to make your stay with us more comfortable, please do not hesitate to ask.”
Sean shook off his distraction to pay attention to the discussion in front of him. What a load of crap. In some other life, Sherman must have been a hotel manager or concierge. He played the part perfectly.
Harris, like most other newcomers, fell for the act, clasping the offered hand as if it were a life line. “Thank you,” he replied on a whoosh of drama-laden breath. His gaze dropped to his platform sandals, and his voice lowered to a mere whisper. “Should I be frightened? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.”
Sherman’s boisterous laughter drew several curious stares from the milling crowds. “You’re not supposed to know, my friend. If you did, I’d be out of a job.”
Yuck, yuck, yuck. The humor in this place made the Three Stooges look like comedic geniuses.
Sherman cleared his throat, and the gawkers went back to staring blankly ahead. Patting the manicured hand in his grasp, the spirit guide added, “There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of here, Mercedes. You’re about to discover the peace that eluded you on Earth.”
Lucky bastard. Sean wouldn’t recognize peace if it slapped him across both cheeks. With his anger mounting, he itched to get to that queue and see the dead kid’s face. Maybe talk to him. Apologize. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said with a nod.
Before he could spin away, Sherman’s voice stopped him cold. “Sean, I have some news for you, as well. The Elder Council has agreed to meet with you. If you’ll follow Mercedes and me, I’ll let them know you’re available now.”
Well, well. About damn time.
Eternally Yours is available now for 99 cents. Warning: the price will be going up before the end of the month so now's the best time to buy your copy! You can buy Eternally Yours at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.
In Your Dreams will be released in September.
For tips on writing and fun articles, visit Gina's Articles For Writers page: http://www.ginaardito.com/ArticlesforWriters.html Need editing services for your manuscript? Gina is proud to announce the launch of Excellence in Editing: http://excellenceediting.com/