One fine spring day, Timothy died. It was rather unexpected, as these things sometimes are, but his manner of departing this world was particularly surprising. But we’ll come back to that later.
The important thing is what came next, which was also unexpected. Timothy just sort of… faded in. There’s really not a better way to describe it. He fully remembered his life and even the exact moments leading up to his death, but, at the moment of impact, there was a sudden blank and then, an indeterminable amount of time later, he was fading back into existence, as if he had merely stepped out of a swanky party for a moment to answer his phone and was easing his way back in so as not to attract any attention. It was the six that he noticed first, and then the two. Things got a little clearer and then there was a string of numbers. The string kept getting longer and then he realized the string of numbers was on something like paper and that it was exceedingly long and that it was cupped in a hand that had to be his, but certainly didn’t look like his, as it entirely lacked fingers and, well, to put it frankly, flesh. His first thought was, ‘What just happened?’
After assessing the situation for a moment, he held his hands, or at least his vaguely transparent, fingerless appendages at the ends of his arms, up to examine them, one of them still clutching that ridiculously long strong of numbers. ‘I… uh… appear to be dead.’ He looked up, taking in the brightness of wherever he was. ‘Hm. That’s inconvenient.’
It was then that he realized he was not alone. He looked down a long line of shapeless white blobs of spirits, noncommittally scratching a head that really wasn’t much of a head at all and that didn’t itch either, for that matter. He looked up the line that was even longer in the other direction. Beyond this and the brightness, there wasn’t much else to look at. Some of the faces looked rather pleased, some unhappy, some confused. Presently, Timmy found himself standing, or floating rather, between a positively fuming spirit, and a squat sad one. Still, it didn’t occur to him that he should probably be feeling some emotion at the time, too; after all, he had just died. He was being extremely good-natured about all this and finally that occurred to him. ‘This isn’t bothering me as much as I always imagined it would.’
The little sad spirit, who had been watching him for a few moments, finally turned and thought at him, ‘New?’
Timmy stared down at him for a moment, intrigued by this sudden display of telepathy. But at this point, just about everything was surprising and so he didn’t feel particularly surprised. He decided he too should try telepathy, since a deplorable lack of lungs and vocal cords would probably make normal speech difficult. He thought as distinctly as he could, ‘Um… beg pardon?’
The little ghost winced slightly at the silent yelling. ‘You new?’ he asked again.
‘Don’t worry. It’ll sink in eventually.’
Timmy thought about this for a moment and asked, ‘How did you-’
‘You think too loud,’ he thought over him, and it was almost a reprimand. He turned back around. Even though Timmy tried politely to rein his errant thoughts in, they still peppered the short one with questions. Finally, he explained briefly, ‘Used to be they’d talk to you when you first showed up… explain things… sort of a welcoming committee. But they’ve been falling farther and farther behind since World War Four. Now they just…’ His thoughts petered off into silence as he clamped down on his emotions, the chief of which was abandonment. A little mental sigh escaped.
Timmy, beginning to feel his first emotion since death (somewhere between horror and sympathy), asked, ‘How long have you been here?’
Not turning, the ghost seemed to get even smaller as he replied shortly, ‘World War Three.’
Horror won out. ‘B-but why?’
‘It’s all in the numbers, kid,’ he replied, holding up a short little strip that couldn’t have had more than five or six digits.
Timmy’s hand tightened reflexively over his abominably long string of letters and a tumult of feelings rose so loudly through him that all he managed to make heard through the rabble was a feeble, ‘But… but…’ He couldn’t hear anymore. All the emotion missing from just moments before roared through him, drowning everything else out. He didn’t belong here, he shouldn’t be dead, how could he be dead, this was ridiculous, didn’t they know who he was, this wasn’t what was supposed to happen, he was altogether too young to die-
The other ghost went on, bitterness giving him momentum as he muttered, ‘Not that it’ll matter much to you… not with a number that high. So what were you? A prince? A prophet? Must have been awfully important to merit such a high priority. Probably- what the?’
Timmy’s absurdly long number cascaded past the little ghost’s surprised face and he realized for the first time that Timmy wasn’t there anymore. He grabbed at the rippling strip in shocked disbelief, dropping his own dismally short number as he stammered excitedly, ‘Yes yes yes yes-’
“Timothy von Strauften of Hoth?” a voice asked, a real, gloriously audible voice.
He glanced up at the tall angel, shoulders bunched together to keep from burst with joy as he lifted the number slightly to her pale eyes like an ID card. ‘Yes?’