I sit here, sipping a beer in my garden at the back of the cottage, a virtual replica of the one I had on earth, and gaze over the dales rolling off into the distance. I loved Yorkshire, even it’s stormy winter weather, but I never for a moment expected an even more sublime version was waiting for me here.
In my last year of declining health I would sit there and gaze contentedly, thinking I should value every moment before the inevitable, and now I’m here doing much the same. The village is still a brisk walk away and the pub is still a heartwarming spot to socialize, with about half of who I knew now resident and settling into their new life.
The trouble I’m thinking of was back there, the gruesome criminality never far from your thoughts. Of course, that’s par for the course when you are a detective. I’d sit in my garden on my days off and wonder how people could wreck that ruggedly beautiful life with greed and lust and vengeance. I never did get it, just accepted it as a part of life we couldn’t avoid much as we might want to. Now I gaze out over much the same landscape and sky and there’s nothing to spoil the serenity and beauty. Took me ages to get used to that, always waiting for something unpleasant to happen, but it never did.
Even seeing old Tom, who always irked me with his bluster, to the point where I’d avoid him if I could, comes by to chat about the old days. He’d been stabbed to death by a desperate junkie thief and though I couldn’t say I would miss him I did attend his funeral and did the proper thing for his children, celebrating his life in the community with toasts and gentle teasing. Now we banter like a couple of old geezers, glad to be resting in a backwater. Which is funny too as everyone here, pretty much anyway, looks younger and younger until at some point they reach thirty-ish. Good health is a given here too, so mix that in with good wrinkle-free looks and you’ve got a winning combination. The looks of youth and the wisdom of age, wasn’t that the fantasy we never thought we realise? Well, here we are living it, more or less. We even get to spout advice to the younger ones. That’s the teens and twenties that died in accidents and overdoses and what not, wars included. They’re doing remorse and regret big time, wondering why they made such dumb choices. They’ve heard the rumours that you can go back and do it all again, maybe make something of yourself but none seem keen so far, at least none that I’ve met.
A couple of the girls found out about the spirit world orphanages, that’s the places where crib death and early childhood cancers come to. They are well looked after I hear, no budget or staff shortages but they still need mothers to adopt. Pair of partners preferably, but since rent and bills are long gone here, a single woman can manage parenting quite well.
My own parents, confirmed Christians when they passed, years ago in an icy collision, live not far away in a strongly religious community. We meet up once in a while, but our differences remain. I take the afterlife is real but no proof of God argument and they feel confirmed in their faith, although the presence nearby of both Sikh and Jewish temples and synagogues is best ignored. Quietly tolerated but ignored. As my mum says between sips of tea and nibbles of digestives, we have enough trouble with the Catholics thank you. Even the Spiritualists, who were not to be missed hereabouts when I was a young man, are a bit at odds. The heaven they felt close by through their mediums and psychics is obviously present and accounted for, their joy seems a tad muted. Who exactly to channel now, they seem to be thinking. At least at the meeting I attended. Of course I was gently ribbed for my old benign scepticism, made obvious in a couple of my investigations in local theft and fraud cases.
When I look back on that it seems like the corruption and nastiness at all levels of society, not to mention man’s inhumanity and all that, I couldn’t see why some deity would bother with all that effort to facilitate paradise. That’s any paradise not just the one I’m in. I’m told there are many and that everyone gravitates to the one they’re most comfortable with. Often without knowing how they got there. That was pretty much true for me. My stroke was sudden and massive, collapsing the old bag of bones onto the floor in seconds. With daughter and grandchildren off in Greece, there was no-one to even be shocked. I slumped there in some cozy darkness and then sort of disappeared.
When I reappeared it was here, right in this comfortable cottage with breathtaking views out each window. Pretty much like home with a few smart reno touches. Reasoning that questioning would not lead me anywhere of value, I accepted the surprisingly pleasant circumstances and sat down to enjoy a cup of tea. The kitchen seemed complete, the only thing missing was my grasp of how and why. Old Tom showed up as I was enjoying my tea and the view. Gruff as ever he managed a companionable Hello and asked how things were coming along. He’d been dead these past five years but acted as thought nothing had happened, so I went along with his game. We chatted and bantered while admiring the view and sipping our teas. Old Tom, of course, puffed away on his pipe.
At one point he asked if I’d been over to see my parents yet. I thought it best to be truthful and said No. Maybe he’d had time to pop over? He nodded. And how did I like the renovations at The Rose? As he’d always disliked anything new, I said I thought it all a bit much. That seemed to satisfy him. Anyways he’d best be getting along as his darts game was coming up. He toddled off with his usual grunt. Some things never change, I remembered thinking later. I’d sat in the garden contentedly watching the passing clouds for ages and then noticed my tea was cold. I wished it was hot still, so’s I didn’t have to get up and potter about. When I sipped it was hot, like fresh poured.
I couldn’t figure it at all and picked up the novel I’d brought out with me. An old favorite by Ian McEwan, one I’d read at least twice before. I settled into the story, barely noticing the wind picking up. And yes, it hadn’t turned chill as it often did this time in the afternoon. Just my lucky day. Retirements like that, a potpourri of lucky days. If you’ve got your health, which unfortunately, not everyone does.
I read for ages and then thought about supper. A ready-made frozen lamb masala and a bottle of dark ale: just what the doctor ordered. Then I settled down to continue watching Inspector Morse. Had the complete set and was on my third run through. I know, ridiculous, a detective watching a detective.
Slept like a baby. Again. Boy did I like that. Next morning, after a shower and poached eggs on toast, I’m pottering about the garden shed, looking for tools, when Old Tom comes by and says he has some business over Limehouse way, where my parents lived and did, I want to come along. Walk’d do me good. I couldn’t argue with that. Retirement had certainly put on the pounds.
He took a windy path I hadn’t noticed before and at one point we crossed a stream using a remarkably ornate bridge that must have been a new addition. I didn’t recognize the stream either. Why had I forgotten so much? Brain damage after the stroke, that must be it. To shift focus from me I asked Tom how he’d managed to retain his youthful looks and good posture. He muttered something about the way things are here. I joked, the land of eternal youth is it? He answered Just about.
Mum and dad had a spiffy new place, larger and all stylishly modern. Mum gave us a hug and dad good strong handshake. I couldn’t believe it; they looked like their wedding shots minus the outfits. As they showed me around, I asked politely about the renovations. Dad said as he wasn’t up to all that heavy lifting anymore, he got a local outfit to do it. And good lads they were too. I commented that he looked as fit as a fiddle to me. Oh, that was the early days when I was still old.
Of course, mum made some tea and scones. As we settled into that she asked if I’d seen Gwen and the kids yet. You should, you know, they’ll be missing you. I said I’d been missing her and dad till today., and that I was still getting up to speed on everything. I looked at dad and said We’re all dead right? He smiled. And this is heaven, yes? Mum answered that one with a grin I hadn’t seen in ages: Indeed, it was and wasn’t it marvelous that an unbeliever like me was welcomed? She had been so worried for the fate of my soul until a meeting with the Monseigneur convinced her that all were welcome regardless of denomination, including agnostics and atheists, that the Vatican had retired all previous restrictions. Of course, Presbyterians and Baptists still had their preferences but were more than welcome here. I wondered where here actually was but kept that under my hat for the moment.
Religion and its affiliations had always been a sore point for us, and I couldn’t see upsetting the apple cart right there and then. Maybe later when I’d found my feet. Old Tom watched all this without much comment. Come to think of it he didn’t say anything at all except for please and thank you. My mum’s scones were legendary. We ended the visit with the kind of stiff grace we’d become accustomed to since my defection from the church. And that very night, I took the Gwen, and the kids issue deeply. My daughter and grandkids: how did they handle the death that must have resulted from the stroke. I felt shock and grief but couldn’t figure out where from. After another meal in a box and a bottle of ale, I decided to sleep on it.
And sleep I did, deep and dream filled. These days I know what dreams really mean here but back then I took them at their face value. I was visiting with Gwen. The kids were sleeping. She was stressed, had a lot on her mind. I tried to be sympathetic and helpful, but it didn’t seem to be doing much good. I couldn’t figure out why she was crying. I was right there with her, what could I do? Nothing dad, you’re dead! I asked was she sure. Stupid but the visit with mum and dad had seemed like dream too. She assured me she had seen and touched my corpse. She arranged a visitation for the next day and a funeral day after that.
I moved to sit beside her, thinking a hug would solve the issue. But it seemed to unravel us both. Sobbing together seemed to be the way to go. I was able to give up may dad-knows-best role and ride it out. I apologized for letting her down. She said it wasn’t my fault, what could I do? I thanked her for organizing everything. I had made the necessary preparations a while back and all she had to do was access the accounts, read the will and all that. Did she want to sell the house or move in? There was room for all three of them. Keep what you want and unload the rest. Her place was too small for growing kids, and we knew it.
I think you get the picture. By the time she evaporated back into her sleeping body I more or less had, you know, gotten it. When I found myself waking up in my place here, so like my place there, I was still questioning myself. The dream had been real, Gwen was my little girl and would always be. I got up, showered, breakfasted and went for a walk. That settled me, well more or less.
I had other dreams where I was at my own funeral and celebration of life. Powerful stuff, much too emotional for a stalwart Brit uncomfortable with emotions. As my ex, Rhonda used to exclaim, in what I saw as disgust, God, men! Sure, that’s us and decades around crime and its gruesome aftermath just cemented it into place. Empathy was awkward, especially when you ran out of your initial supply. I couldn’t blame Rhonda for moving to Greece and marrying that expat Yank. He’d bought a little B&B after cashing out a small motel in Maine. Her long weekend in the upstairs bedroom turned into a week and then a month. We sorted out Gwen, who was loving her school but soon adapted to her own long weekends courtesy RyanAir. Show me any Brit who doesn’t love their trips to Greece. She loved her mum but thought I needed the support more.
And Hank the Yank was a good guy, thrilled to escape those Maine winters, didn’t mind a bit of hard work and taking on a tan, good for Rhonda as she made the challenging adjustments. Good for me too really, once I realized she was better off away from the ‘slime of crime’ as she called it. I got so as I could visit myself, keeping my ego under wraps with the help of Christine, whose own troubles had ceased when the abuser offed himself on an icy road shitfaced from the pub. My busy working life left her on her own to pursue her internet business by the spare room window, gazing out over the dales as she corrected copy and filed reports.
Yeah, life goes on regardless. Gwen grew into a fine young woman eager for life but not so eager as to make those stupid choices that some do. And really, life is much the same here, it goes on regardless. All that’s required is that you embrace the changes. And the mysteries at the fringes. By that I mean you get here and think, well that’s it, got all my answers, life does go on and what’s there to worry about now? Nothing really.
Mum and dad know they are in heaven, the promised reward for devotion and faith. And their congregation feels the same as far as I can tell. It’s more paradise to me and the rest at the pub. I was retired from active duty and now I’m retired to life in paradise. It’s a pretty smooth shift really. Lie back and enjoy it that’s what some of us say. Some take to projects of one kind or another. Carpentry, renovations and the like. Len just continued projects he’d started before his heart attack. He’d been dead about four days he reckons now, but at the time he just woke up in his bed, made breakfast and got back at it. The house looked much the same and his half-finished stuff was in the shed as before. It took his dad coming by before it twigged. Albert had been dead nigh on thirty years and there he was lecturing him just like he used to.
Mary has taken to sculpting. As a retired nurse she’d been keen on watercolors but getting set up here with a bigger garden and all, she indulged her secret fantasy to be the next Henry Moore and has all these strange curvy blobs scattered about the place. It’s much easier on the hands and arms here as you can make the shapes with your imagination, and they come into being on their own. She insisted I come by and watch her sometime. I promised I would but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. Her daughter Janet, who’d committed suicide in depression years back, is now living with her, and glad to say, much happier too. I didn’t ask too many questions, just enjoyed seeing them comfortable together. More like sisters now. The memory of finding her hanging from a beam in the old barn was fading thank God. Disappointed in love as they used to say. Her fella had met someone on a vacation of the Isle of Wight and just moved in. Very sad time it was. Janet who used to be such a cheery soul, lighting up every room she entered. A gloom descended on the whole village. I even had to talk down an ex of hers who wanted to go south to confront the boyfriend. I knew it would end badly, with more regrets than satisfactions and we downed many ales thrashing it out. Three months later Derek meets a Spanish girl in Barcelona and winds up managing her dad’s bistro. He’d done some pub work here and there so the switch was painless. At least that’s what he told me in a letter, back when folk wrote letters.
I don’t mind saying that sitting in the Rose & Crown, surrounded by familiar faces, a chess game here, some darts over there, it’s like nothing has changed, at least not very much. Some of the more adventurous ones leave for foreign parts, while rumors of fabulous magical places drift back. Owen, for example, disappeared for what seemed like a year or more, although it sure is hard to keep track here, and when he parked himself beside me one afternoon as I sat admiring the view while nibbling on a pork pie with my pint, it was wonder after wonder. He tried to explain ‘going up’ rather than ‘across’. Like ‘across’ was going to France or Spain but ‘up’ was like this other world, where flying and changing shape was the norm. And no, not flying in planes, flying in your body. And no, you didn’t have to flap your arms or invent wings. You just thought ‘I’m going to fly’ and it happened. When I asked where to exactly, I felt like an old fuddy-duddy. The answer was the sheer thrill of flight was enough. Ecstasy of the airborne, he said grinning. How was it all possible? Ewan wasn’t sure but he’d heard that down here the gravity was heavier, and everyone was like more conventional. If conventional was being happy with your lot, then I couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Ewan wasn’t criticizing, just trying to explain. He reminded me of his travels after college when everyone thought he should take the first engineering position offered and he went to the far east for a year, ending up in Japan hanging around Buddhist temples. It was the quiet that intrigued him. Until then he had never seen the value of being quiet.
I suspect now he was trying to make a comparison between his discovery of quiet with his new discovery of flight, but at the time I was too fuzzy to see it. Fuzzy with satisfaction, I think. All those fears and anxieties gone. I was still me, and everyone else was still the selves I knew. Life from day to day was predictably easy, almost boring. No more buying and selling, no more debts and payments, no more mortgages and banks.
I started thinking about value and what constitutes it. If there’s no financial status attached to things, you fall back on quality of materials, construction, and standards of service. My place was fine and dandy when I woke up in it, at first too thick to know the difference, and then too amazed to know what to think. Are you saying that it was put together while I was still alive? I was chatting with Evelyn, mistress of the Rose & Crown, what with Bert still back on earth. She answered me with a certain amount of confidence that yes it was. The pub here was functioning when she arrived after her accident. Another chap was running it but seemed ready to pass on the reins and disappeared soon after. Said he’d take a few days off and never came back. Had I noticed that. You know folk disappearing somehow? No, I had not, not then but more recently, yeah. But you just think they’re off on vacation or visiting relatives, and let’s face it, everyone who loved Spain and Greece for a winter break can go as often and as long as they want now.
Anyway, we nattered on without really resolving anything. We sometimes hope that someone will drop by the pub that knows more than we do. I mean we’re all happy enough with our afterlives and there’s as many puzzles here as there. And like there you just stop thinking about them after a while.
Like when Ewan’s telling me about this magical world up there, he visited, all that flying and amazing architecture that sounded like what I’d seen of Dubai, and me telling him that I’m still gob smacked about how perfect and wonderful it is here, the cottages like little jewels and the dales just begging to be walked on. Ewan had to admit it, even the blades of grass looked more radiant here.
Speaking of other worlds to visit, when I visited with the folks at the spiritualist church across the valley, thinking how smug they’d be having talked up the afterlife for years, they were all as friendly as ever. Sure, they were satisfied that their predictions had panned out, but they didn’t push it at me, just made jokes about no crimes to solve any more. I had to laugh, it was so true, no appalling or scandalous behavior to be shocked and saddened by, I hardly knew where to turn. Of course, there was always mystery thrillers to read, and I had plenty in the house to be going on with.
What intrigued me was that those of them who practiced mediumship before were still at it now and finding it as fascinating at before. But weren’t all the dead people here, pretty much at their fingertips?
Well not everyone apparently. There were quite a few who had gone on to higher worlds, they said, and they wanted to discover the path there for themselves. A bit nonplussed I thought to mention what Ewan had told me of his visit. Yes, that was it, he was in one of the higher worlds. They asked if I could get him to come and speak to them. I said I would try. Public speaking was not on his radar I would have thought, but hey he was a local lad, he’d do it as a favor, even if he was a little shy about it. They asked about my mum and dad, who as conservative Catholics hadn’t exactly been their friends before, but they hadn’t held any grudges. Let’s face it, embracing eternal life was what they all tried to do, just different ways of doing it. I reported that they seemed very happy and fulfilled although still acting as if their way was the only way. This elicited sympathy, especially from the few who could recall my rejection of their brand of faith decades before. They’d never really gotten over the horror of their grandkids growing up without Christ and of course blamed me for what really was Gwen’s decision. Like I was the man with all the power. Truth to tell I loved Gwen’s feisty feminism; I was proud of her. My girl never giving an inch to all the crap.
And in case you are wondering I did keep up some nightly visits, especially during that first bout with grief and settling all the financials. She was mostly awake and pleased to see her dad, but she seemed to forget I’d been by before. Any kind of continuity was bit of a challenge. Annoying but then I saw the funny side of it: a bit like creeping senility. Jenny and Alex were easier. They were often bouncing around the house before I got there and were all over me like a favorite puppy. Grandad! grandad!
They were like a comedy double act, firing questions and laughing. As they always had been, I guess. Where do you live now that we’re in your house? Mum says you’re dead but are you really? Do you have a house in heaven? Do angels really have wings? Can you see God, or does he hide in his many mansions? What can I say Alex was only four and Jenny and very mature six. Then they were off, charging about the garden like screaming banshees, leaping over the hedges with ease. When they come back and flop down beside me and cuddle, they’re so sweet I cannot contain myself. Then the strangest thing. Like some special effects in a movie, they kind of disintegrate, melt away to nothing and are gone in a flash inside their sleeping bodies. Their clock was at 4.15. I returned to my world happy they hadn’t seen me weeping.
As I moved on from my newbie status and began to realize that this world is just as varied and complex as the one, I had left and that adjusting would be a gradual process that would take patience and more than a bit of practice. I could see how someone could hide away, pretending that nothing much had changed. How even being a functioning part of your community, enjoying your pastimes and social life, could be a way of hiding. Hiding in paradise. Well, the sheer pleasure, and let’s face it, joys of existence, this new life of no worries, no aches or pains or upsets, it could easily steal into you and stay there. You know, relieving you of all desire and ambition, which at first seems great, what a relief, much like the relief of seeing death was an illusion, but then you start to see you need some desires, you need some vision of what you want to accomplish with, you know, your god-given talents.
So, I figured that my talents were sniffing out the bad apples and tossing them out of the cart. So how was I going to do that here? Well, I soon found myself hanging about Ian Ayre, the new detective that took my old position on retirement. I could tell he was soft hearted and too kind to be a real D.I. So much so I wondered how he’d managed to fight his way up through the ranks of envy and resentment. When I got focused on what he was really up to, after a weekend with his boyfriends on the town that you can well imagine, it was a complex fraud ending in murder. Not even ending really.
It was a fascinating learning curve as I found my way through the paths opened by people’s thoughts. They couldn’t lie to me anymore; I could see right through ducking and diving as Ian questioned them. I don’t know how I knew; I just did. Of course, I had learned to sniff out a story years before, but knowing the yarn was a yarn wasn’t enough, you had to drum up others whose naivete or honesty could poke holes in the weave of untruths, and that could take weeks, sometimes months, and with cold cases, years. I found, much to my surprise, that I could see what the liars were thinking as they lied. I’d get images of where the valuables or bodies were hidden, and I didn’t really have to search and search. I’d just zero in on the images and I’d be there, right up close. Then I’d have to pull back to get the big picture, the house, the district, the woods. Then I’d return to Ian and try to tell him, which at first was nearly impossible. He wasn’t listening, too busy with his own process and analysis. I’d retreat to my own place to probe and ponder. Just like I did in the old days with an ale and some music to drown in. Back then I could float about and emerge with some answers.
Now I was faced with a different set of problems. How to get Ian to listen and then did I have a right to interfere. I would not have been welcome as a retired know-it-all butting in, so why as a wised-up ghost would I be any better? I remembered interacting with Gwen when she slipped out of her body during sleep. But she was my daughter, Ian Ayre was a colleague I hardly knew. A totally unjustified invasion of privacy: that, despite my good intentions, was what it amounted to. And were my intentions so good and pure? I wasn’t exactly doing God’s work; I was interfering for the ego boost.
I went over to the Rose and Crown, hoping some wise soul would see my dilemma and sort it out with a dose of superior wisdom. After all I was still pretty much a newbie. But the best I got was a couple I vaguely recognized from the old village, Lance, and Vera. They’d passed years before me, Lance from a stroke and Vera from a broken heart not three months later. I’d been to their funerals out of respect rather than friendship and recalled them only as bent, frail and wrinkled. Now they were a couple of svelte charmers back from a honeymoon, the second one, the one they’d never suspected could exist. They remembered me as some PC Plod workaholic who’d lost his wife to some Yank in Greece. As they chattered excitedly about their trip to Egypt and Dubai, I got the feeling they were still trying to cheer me up after all these years. Bless their hearts but I really needed some advice on my current problem, but I shied away from being seen as some dead detective without a purpose. When they saw me smirk, I mentioned my mum and dad and their continued faith, knowing that they’d always found them holier than thou, really, I was bemused at the notion of the detective trying to detect his purpose.
When I got back home, I thought of it again and laughed out loud at the craziness of it. Why couldn’t I just resign myself to the pleasures of paradise and hobbies like chess and reading? I had an itch, an itch that brought on an ethics dilemma that I then tried to resolve by going for a long walk. Hours over hill and dale with only the rhythm of your stride and caress of the breeze for company. I cleared my head of all conflict, or maybe just learned to ignore it, and found a sweet village to rest and revive. Not that you need much reviving here. Effort and exhaustion are more memories than experiences here. You nap and sleep more out of habit than need. And sometimes I wonder if it’s the same with food. After a long hike in the old world, you’d feel starved and ready for a pie and chips but here a nibble on some light snacks is plenty and that’s as much for the taste as nourishment. A fine ale is always welcome of course and I was enjoying my second when a friendly stranger asked if he could join me.
Harry and I made some small talk for a bit and then he asked if I could use some help. Puzzled and a touch suspicious, I asked what he meant exactly. He said he’d cut to the chase; he knew I was stressing myself over choices. He explained it was talent he’d developed since getting here. He’d always been a bit intuitive in the old days but now it was like he could read people at a glance, almost without trying. He hoped I didn’t mind, invading my privacy like, but he’d felt compelled the moment he laid eyes on me. I nodded, now curious.
It was about going back to earth and getting close to living people, wasn’t it? I nodded again. He sensed I wanted to help but worried I was interfering, you know, invading. I mentioned interacting with my daughter when she emerged from sleep, but that was family, right. He knew then I was conflicted about contacting others. I nodded again. He went on about nasty interfering manipulators messing with folk getting them in all kinds of jams. If they had a propensity for anger, they had ways of pumping it up to breaking point and loving the explosions. Just like wild kids setting fires for the heck of it. About half the sudden violence on earth was started by these spirits. Call them mischievous, call them malevolent, call them little demons, he’d seen it all. Sensing my next question, he said he’d figured out how to hover about the earth without getting stuck. It was easy to get stuck and these little nasties were a perfect example. The buzz they got from violence, sex, gambling & drugs excited them, the thrill of manipulating the weak willed into doing stuff that was, lets face it, not in their best interests, was something to behold. Just being able to do it behind a screen of invisibility kept them charged up. I said Junkies for the buzz, and he nodded.
But I was someone who wanted to help not hinder. I was good hearted, he could tell. I just had to be careful to not confuse my urge to assist with their unconscious calls for help. He had me with that and I asked how I could ever tell the difference. It could be done but I needed practice. He added Not to worry he wasn’t going to take over. A few pointers were all.
Without getting tangled up in details he asked to come along on my next venture. I had the feeling he knew where we were going before we got there but said nothing. I found Ian Ayre going through a property looking for, well, anything that might help. It was not a crime scene but the home of one of the suspected perpetrators. Or maybe one of the victims. Or a perpetrator that claimed to be a victim. We watched as he combed through the messiness of the place. I recognized the feeling of hopelessness as he looked for that needle in the haystack of junk. He was being assisted by a young female colleague, a newbie who had thought, once upon a naive time, that she knew what she was letting herself in for. Maybe that series of Ist A.D. jobs on film sets was not as crazy making as she remembered. Maybe her mother belonged in a long-term care facility.
If I had fantasized that being a ghost would give me some kind of x-ray vision about the hidden treasure every detective dream of, or that Harry had some secret key to some mystery I hadn’t even thought of, I was to be disappointed. Ian and his assistant seemed to be falling down some rabbit hole of junk and as I watched, completely lacking the inspiration I thought might come to me, I felt Ian’s frustration as if it were my own. I looked to Harry, hoping. He leaned in and whispered, just feed him positive vibes, you know, lift his sagging spirit. I mentioned that going for lunch used to help me. Harry nodded, yeah try that. It seemed to work.
Later we joined them at what was likely Ian’s favorite watering hole as they relaxed with sandwiches and drinks and family chatter. When they got up to leave it was to inspect two other locations of interest. Was that that result of Harry and I continuing with the flow of positive vibes, something that seemed to come to me naturally. I wasn’t sure and Harry said You will never know, not really, but doing it out of a desire to help, out of the goodness of your heart, was always a good idea. Like spreading good cheer and having bounce back at you, I suggested. Big smile from Harry: Oh yes.
Days later, days on earth that is, I found Ian and some family member at the morgue, pulling back the sheet for official identification, as the brother, I think, did the duty, I saw some image of the attacker coming from somewhere. A voice in my head said That’s the one. Conventional looking, almost typical, nothing of the psychopath about her, not even the superficial charm. Her motivation was clearly vengeance. How did I know, I just knew. Accustomed to uncovering a chain of clues through diligence, determination, and a shot of good luck, I was thrown by this sudden certainty. In detective work nothing comes for free, but this seemed to be handed to me on a plate. The real challenge, I found out, was to nudge Ian in the right direction. Looking to Harry, he nodded. You’re getting it: what’s obvious to us isn’t quite so to them. I suspected, even then, that he knew more than he was letting on. As I was to guide Ian, he was to guide me.
Returning to the world of the dead, where Harry had first spied me, we decided to let it be for the time being and resume when I felt the urge. Harry smiled as he left, it won’t be long. I enjoyed the walk back as much as the walk there, with perhaps a little more to ponder. I could see the solving of problems, mysteries, was still very much with me. Was it some essential aspect of my character, one that easily survived the transition? That got me wondering what other parts survived and what didn’t. Well one thing about being here was the oodles of time one had to work stuff out. No pressures other than maybe one’s own curiosity.
At home after a couple of pints at the pub, I had the funny idea of being the dead detective and a series of books about my adventures. And I knew just who I’d like to write it. My favorite mystery thriller author Sandy Alexander, whose books lined my bedroom shelf, although how they got here, I’ll never know, had passed a year or two before me. Sudden heart attack we were told. For the first time, surprisingly, I wondered where he might be. Some of those spiritualist folks might know. I’d go over tomorrow and ask about.
Which I did, pretty much right after breakfast. Another lovely stroll over hill and dale, a gentle pace through paradise. I was so content that I almost forgot where I was going. Not too far from the slipshod memory function in retirement years. After you unwind from the rigors of work and schedules you kind of fall into drifting through the days, a rowboat on a windless day, listening and watching instead of making things happen. And that just continues here really, the pleasure of the moment, sitting, walking, reading, even swimming, which I never used to do after college.
So, I get to the spiritualists’ community, a village they call The Light of Life and made a few enquiries. Certainly, someone could try to locate him, they’d be happy to. Souls go to all kinds of levels and locations here I was told, sometimes the paces they fantasized about on earth but felt they couldn’t make the change or afford it. A couple called Gerald and Nancy were keen to have a go. I joined them in their sitting room, and they asked for a few moments silence to get focused. I obliged. Pretty soon Gerald said he was feeling a contact. Some contacts were with people, and some were more on locations. Guides often helped out, not that you could actually see them, but the notion of assistance was strong. Nancy was drawing a blank but told Gerald to ‘go for it’.
A few more moments of silence, so quiet I could hear Gerald’s breath. He’s somewhere in Canada. I see a lakeside cottage, quite rustic and charming, a wooden dock with a rowboat tied up and man swimming back to shore. Another man comes out with a towel and hands it to him and then returns with a tray of refreshments. They are sitting by a small table under an umbrella and obviously enjoying each other’s company. It was known, at least by his fans, that Sandy, long married, had left a wife on earth, whose interviews made the point that the business of managing his estate, foreign rights, film rights and so on, had kept her from the worst of grieving. That and her new grandchild, who they’d blessed with the name Sandrine.
Gerald asked if I’d like to make further contact. I asked was that possible. He replied that nothing was certain, but if Sandy was mentally open, he’d hear something and would reply. How I asked. Telepathically apparently. All the way from Canada? Certainly. It wasn’t the distance that mattered more the openness to astral possibilities. Abilities really but for some still possibilities. I noticed Nancy nodding in agreement.
Okay, I said, ask if he might be interested in a detective series from our point of view here. Gerald hummed. Some moments of quiet. Then he said, or more muttered, He’s already working on his memoirs but is curious, so why don’t you come see him? Wow, great, I said, but how do I do that?
Gerald said there were a couple of ways. Find out exactly where he was and (a) fly there or (b) do an instant transfer. Or (c), actually, we have a chap here who’s mastered the art of transfer and can guide you. Nancy added, Yes Norman has really made some progress on that front.
Gerald seemed to pause; I watched fascinated. Okay, he’s telling me it’s the Muskoka cottage country north of Toronto he lives in, just outside a community named, umm, Russley. Small but on all the maps he says. Then quieter. Then Gerald seemed to come round from his well, trance, I guess.
Nancy suggested tea and biscuits. Sounds great to me I said. As were enjoying that, all cozy and friendly, Gerald added, oh by the way he asked that you give him a buzz before showing up. And how might I do that? By thinking of him. But I hardly know him, just love his books. Keep thinking of that love I was told. And if that didn’t work Gerald would oblige. Needless to say, I was not parsimonious with my gratitude.
After chatting at length about our relief and pleasure at being here in this lovely afterlife world, I thanked them for their generous gift of time and rambled back to my village, trying not to be amazed. It was one of those times when even the grass seemed magical, like it was singing to you. I bravely resisted the temptation to sing back. Life here is chock full of new things and surprises, I knew that, but here was another right in my lap. Flying to Canada, I hadn’t even done that on earth. France, Greece, yes. Farther afield, well that always seemed more trouble than it was worth.
I guessed I’d have to expand my horizons sooner or later and maybe this venture was the trigger. My curiosity over Sandy Alexander, what kind of life he might be living now and how writing felt to him here, not to mention my mad project which maybe he would just laugh off as impossible. I pondered my options for a few days, going about my life as though nothing much would be changing. When I checked in with Ian, he seemed to have reached a dead end in his pursuit of the truth. I tried to impress his mind with the guilty parties as I had traced them, but the connections were so weak he couldn’t take them seriously. He thought he was fingering a remote possibility, fishing in a panic, and castigated himself for being so flakey. Besides there were other crimes to be chased down, two suspicious arsons and three probable kidnappings, though teenage girls had a habit of fleeing the coup on a moment’s notice. You know, the usual, boys and babies and whatnot.
Eventually I had to face my fear of just doing it. I might fail or look foolish but what harm would come of thinking appreciative thoughts of Sandy’s work and good wishes for his continued existence? So, I sat in my favorite armchair and focused on the image from his book covers, which was all I knew of him really. That and those great mystery thrillers. He was fuzzy at first, but I persevered and he, well, came into focus, sitting, perhaps not surprisingly, at a desk fingering a keyboard. Before the desk was a wide window looking onto a lake, or maybe a wide river. I thought this thought: Sandy may I come and visit you about a project? I waited to see what might happen. Nothing at first. Then a thought. Or maybe a thought in my imagination. Gerald had advised me at one point that really it was all imagination and not to be bothered.
Then something like a rustle, a whispery sound, like two folks going over a private issue hoping no-one else could hear. I strained like I was trying to listen in, and what do you know, the chat came in a bit clearer. I heard one voice say, someone is trying to get in touch. Then another, maybe that chap we were told about? So, I dunno, thought really hard to say this: Yes, it’s me may I come to visit soon?
The I got a clear answer: Why yes, drop in when you can. I replied, just like a normal conversation: Thanks, I will soon. Then I heard, are you new here you feel a little unsure? Yes, I am, but I am being given help by others. Fine then we’ll be expecting you.
So, I sat back, feeling pretty chuffed with myself. Now to actually get there. I thought about Gerald’s friend Norman, and whether it would be wise to like to hitch a ride with him, an old pro. My thought seemed to get an answer. Boy was that a surprise. Gerald said Yes, Norman’s here with us. If you like he can pop over now. Says it would be no problem. How would he find me, not knowing me yet? Well Gerald said he had an image of me, a clear one and he’d just given that to Norman. Was I ready? I gulped, Uh yes.
Then this tall thin guy, almost the build of an athlete, you know, a runner with not a shred of extra flesh, appeared at my side, grinning. You’re newbie I know, but don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. I looked up, trying to be more grateful than shocked. He kept up his grin. Here give me your hand. I stood up and obeyed. He continued, Now close your eyes imagine the person you’re keen to see, I hear he’s in Canada, north of Toronto, and we’ll be there in a flash. I did more or else as I was told and sure enough, there we were, standing on the grassy shore of a lake, looking onto a wooden cabin, well more than a cabin, but in that style, with two guys relaxing by a picnic table, sipping what looked like tea. One of them looked just like Sandy. He smiled and waved, come on over and join us please. Norman introduced himself, and said he’d be on his way as he had other commitments. And he was gone, just like that. In an instant.
I seated myself after shaking hands and tried not to be overwhelmed. Sandy and his partner John seemed very at ease, not at all bothered by the intrusion. I commented and Sandy answered that well, you get like that here. John smiled in agreement: Yes, he said, after all that hassle of life on earth, things just went swimmingly here. He suggested I just let myself settle in. I said I’d been trying and, you know, finding a bit of my own groove. But there was so much to learn, wasn’t there? He nodded knowingly.
After establishing my love of Sandy’s novels, which like a pro he took with grace, I explained my own, I guess you’d say, issues. Long time Yorkshire detective superintendent retired and now, not surprisingly, dead and looking for a new lease on life. But maybe stuck in the old patterns, Sandy suggested. Tell me about it, here I am writing again. The memoir I never got to. But who’ll read it now? All my fans on earth? How would I get it through? Channelers would not be believed, even if I could get one interested. I didn’t believe them myself. Read one back in the day about John Lennon that suggested he was the reincarnation of Mozart. Just couldn’t buy it, couldn’t see the connection. Reincarnation of someone maybe, but Mozart, nah.
John made the point that a goodly number of Sandy’s fans, like me, were already here and would doubtlessly be intrigued at what he might have so say. About the past, about now. I hastened to agree. I’d be first in line to read it. But what was my project he asked. I mentioned my interest in Ian and being his guide, sort of, and all the difficulties I was encountering. He laughed. Don’t ask me why but somehow, I get it. Detectives and their discontents. We all laughed at that.
Our conversation continued at a leisurely pace, as if nothing in the world mattered more. Perhaps nothing did. When you’ve been here for a while your categories of significance and importance tend to slide. What really matters? Well, you’re not sure. And you’ve lost that inclination to be sure. About halfway to ‘who cares really’.
Sandy was always one to slot in musical references to his protagonist’s life, especially the classic rock and jazz I so loved. As a bit of a fan myself I was repeatedly charmed, so when He mentioned that several members of the Grateful Dead, including Jerry, were playing around various clubs in astral California, and playing as well as you might hope, if not better, I was intrigued. He suggested I come by with them sometime. When I once more indulged in my naivete over travel he assured me that astral California was no more difficult than the astral Ontario I was now sitting in. Just get here and hitch a ride with us, he grinned.
When it came time to move on, I hesitated, and Sandy immediately said I should think of the guy I came with, and he’d appear. Sure enough, I closed my eyes, made an image and a request for help. And there he was, smiling and saying, well then, ready to go? What can I say, we went and, in a flash, more or less I was standing in my garden, asking him if he’d care to have an ale with me at the pub. In the pub’s patio, under the ever so pretty rose arbor, nodding at various acquaintances, he assured me that the travel thing would come more easily with practice. It was all about making an image in your mind’s eye and wanting to go there. He chuckled; bilocation is such a breeze here. I asked if he’d known about it before. Yeah, met a couple of psychics wo said they could do it, you know, be in two locations at once. He’d tried a couple of times but couldn’t seem to make it happen. But it was always there in his mind and when he got here, it came back and what do you know, everything fell into place almost the first time out and in no time, he was guiding others who were having trouble. They called him the traveler now. It’s projection really, but who cares.
After a while he apologized, citing previous commitments and made his departure, which came out standing up, strolling out of the patio area, and disappearing in a flash. Not that anyone noticed but me. I spent the next chunk of what you’d think of as time ruminating on all this and tying not to feel I was spreading my wings. I guess I still felt old and sensible, or like I ought to be, even though you seem to get younger here all the time. I now look about forty-five instead of the seventy-eight when I got here. I’m told by those who are already there that it’ll keep up till I’m about thirty. The phrase ‘handsome devil’ has been used, though I’m only telling you about it.
I knew I had to get back into the swing of things, so a visit to Gwen was definitely in order. Again, she acted like it was my first time. Dad you’re here! That’s great! Missed you so much! They’d moved in completely, had her old place listed, the kids at the new school and her position made remote as they are these days, with only the occasional trip to head office. My place was so much roomier than hers, she was thrilled I hadn’t been tempted to sell out when the going seemed good, as it had some years back. I asked if she recalled me visiting when awake during the day. Not much but the kids sure did. They had started a game they called When Grandad Comes to Play that, of course, involved lots of screaming and running wild. When she once asked what grandad was doing now, they said He just threw a frisbee over the house, ran around and caught it on the other side before it fell. Talk about not recalling; that was a new one to me. Eventually she faded back into her sleeping body and I left feeling reassured.
With Ian I had to be more diligent. Harry was pleased to help out and showed up shortly after I thought about him. I thanked him, well, profusely, but he said there was no need. He was more than happy to help out. Feeling more bold than polite suddenly I asked why. He replied that, okay, he guessed it was time to fess up. He’d been my spirit guide on earth and was just continuing now. I asked when he signed on. He asked if I really wanted to know. Laughing, I told him I was man enough for the truth by this point. He grinned Okay then; it was before you were born. How was it set up then? Well, I more or else asked him. Really, why? We’d worked together before. Like when? Like 1820, 1650, 1225-ish. I thought that we’d end up in Rome or Egypt. Yes, I’m afraid so, he added as we laughed once again. Would he let me in on all the secrets and stuff. Sure, when the time was right. But not right now. No, now we’re focusing on Ian and getting through to him.
Which we did, eventually. All of which I later related to Sandy, who took notes as I chatted, promising not to embellish overmuch. And yeah, I made it to Canada no problem: there and back.