The past couple of years had not been the best for Julie. They had been, in fact, the worst years of her life. Which was ironic considering it all went downhill when she died.
She remembered the moment perfectly. She had been driving to work going over the 1,001 things on her to do list for the day when the semi-truck headed east bound did not see the red light and ran in to her brand new never even made a payment on it Prius headed southbound. As she saw the truck headed her way and heard the squeal of the tires and the blare of his horn she thought, "I am too busy for this shit today!" and then there was a flash of light and she was standing in front of a dude guarding a gate and checking a book that was balanced on a podium.
"What is your name?"
He ran his finger down the page and hovered above a space, "Essence please."
"Your essence. I need to collect it before you can move on. Just put it in the box right here."
He pointed to a glowing box at his feet. She looked closer. It looked like it was holding swirling light.
"How do I give you my essence?"
"Just drop it in the box. I've told you."
"But where do I get it from?"
He sighed deeply, "For goodness sake, you are holding it in your hand aren't you? Just put it in the freaking box!"
Julie held her hands up, "I'm not holding anything."
"You're not holding anything? What? Don't tell me you left without your essence? You can't just leave your essence behind!"
"Okay, great, but since I don't know what you are talking about you can't really get mad at me about it!"
He wasn't listening to her though. He had picked up what looked like a walkie talkie and was shouting to someone, "WE HAVE A CODE 48! I NEED SOMEONE DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW!"
As soon as he had finished speaking there were three more people with him at the podium. There were two in what looked like contamination jump suits and an older woman carrying a very large pocketbook.
"Confirmed. She left her essence behind." one of the jump suited arrivals announced.
"Were you able to recover it?"
"Negative. The shell was still functioning so we were unable to clear the essence." the second jump suited arrival responded.
"Then she's all yours. Good luck." and with that he closed the book and everyone and everything disappeared except Julie and the older lady.
"What in the world is going on?" Julie asked not sure she would get an answer.
"What is the last thing you remember?" the woman rummaged through her purse and pulled out a small notebook and pen.
"I was on my way to work, and...oh crap. Am I dead?"
"Well..." the woman paused from her note taking. "You are mostly dead."
Julie laughed, "To blave..."
The old woman just looked at her.
"Like Princess Bride? I'm mostly dead." the woman just stared at Julie, "Princess Bride. The movie?"
"Oh a movie. That's right. You watch movies down there for fun."
"Or up there. Or over there. Directions don't really mean anything. Anyway, back to your memory. You said you were on your way to work, what else do you remember?"
"There was a truck coming at me. He ran his light. I couldn't get out of the way. I thought about how I was angry because he was going to damage my car and I hadn't even made a payment yet, and that I was going to be late for work and I was too busy to be late."
"Oh. There we are."
"What do you mean there we are?"
"This happens sometimes. Here have a caramel." the woman reached in to her bag and pulled out a Werther's for Julie.
"Seriously? You are giving me a Werther's?"
"Well, yes, I have seen that people tend to like a candy to make them feel better."
Julie shook her head. But she unwrapped the candy and popped it in her mouth anyway. Her grandmother had always had Werther's in her purse and it actually did make Julie feel better.
"Okay, I have a candy. Now what do you mean, there we are?"
"You are mostly dead. Like I said. But at the moment of death, or should have been death, as your true essence was leaving your body you announced your pure intention that you did not have time for this and so your true essence popped back in to your body to keep going. See? You cannot announce pure intention to true essence and not have there be consequences."
Julie shook her head again, "No I don't see. I'm here so obviously I did die, right? So how can my body keep going. How am I not the essence of who I am?"
"Well you are you, of course, but there is a part of you, the part that drives you, that is your essence. Your essence is what keeps you going while you are there instead of here. For some people that essence is the love of their family. Or their charity work. Or their kindness to strangers. Or their love of animals. Or the fact that they really really hate people. Essence isn't always so good, but we don't see a lot of those people around these parts. We see the very good, the mostly good, the sort of good and the tries really hards."
Julie reached a hand out and the old woman put another candy in her palm.
"But see, dear, you, well your essence seems to be ummm, being busy. So it just stayed behind in your body and kept going. I would guess right about now you are sitting in a hospital room trying to make a phone call to work."
"So what does that mean then? What happens next?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. See now you need to wait for your shell to give out and release your essence. When that happens you can grab it and bring it back to the gate and we will go from there."
"The shell to give out?"
"Well yes, the shell." the woman paused for a moment, "Your body! Yes, your body. Where you were and where you essence is now. Your body was supposed to be deactivated by the truck, you see, but since your essence stayed behind it wasn't." the woman rummaged through her bag again and pulled out what looked like a smart phone. She slid her finger on the screen and Julie saw herself there, in a hospital room and yes, it was true she was on the phone.
The woman zoomed in on a medical chart hanging from the end of Julie's bed. "You are a medical miracle. They would have assumed massive internal injuries but you seem to have survived completely intact." the woman laughed, "Well we know that's not true, but in all essence it is!" she laughed again then noticed the look on Julie's face, "Too soon?"
"So now what? If the truck didn't kill me what will?"
"Oh normal wear and tear, even a busy essence filled with pure intention cannot make a shell last longer than, oh 100 years or so. They just aren't designed to last much longer than that."
"One hundred years? But I'm only 32!"
"Well, yes, it might be awhile. If you are lucky though, maybe your shell will have a massive heart attack or suffer from a catastrophic failure like a decapitation or electrocution! That would be much quicker!"
Julie was horrified. "This is me we are talking about!"
"Oh no, dear, not really. Not anymore. But you do need to recover your essence before you can move on. Those are the rules. One essence per customer sort of thing. You turn in the old one, you get to move along. You don't? Well..."
"Well you have a choice. You can wait for your shell to give out and grab your essence and try again. Or you can just give up and stay in limbo forever."
"Like a ghost?"
"Oh no, not like a ghost. A ghost is an essence that got away. Or was released maliciously. From the other help desk. They think that's funny. But no, limbo is you just well, stuck. Never moving along. Never going back. Just here. But not here, here, there is a place they will send you if you choose limbo."
"Why would someone choose limbo? If it's just nothing?"
"Truly? I think it's the people whose essence is laziness. They never did anything when they had their shell and their essence and them all in one place so it's very easy for them to imagine not doing anything for ever. But that's not really who you are is it?"
Julie shook her head, "No, I don't think anyone has ever used lazy to describe me."
"Then I would guess you will choose to wait for your shell to give out and your essence to come free."
Julie sighed, "I guess so. Where do I wait?"
"Oh you will have to wait with your shell. You wouldn't want to miss the moment."
"What do you mean wait with my shell? Do I get to go back? To keep living my life? That doesn't sound terrible."
The woman reached for another Werther's to give Julie, "Oh no, I am afraid it's not like that..."
And it wasn't. Not really. Julie floated along within reach of her shell while it just kept plugging along. Working on projects, meeting deadlines (ha!), making those car payments, always so busy.
Now thirty four years old. Only 66 years to go. Sixty six more years of watching her old body work and go through the motions of life. Sixty six years of nobody noticing that Julie had died and was no longer really there. Sixty six more years of realizing that honestly there wasn't much difference from when she was there. Only sixty six more years...
Julie thought, "Kill me now." and then unwrapped another Werther's.