Raymond Filmore was dead. He would have known this in his bones, and it was perhaps the lack of them, that first clued him to his having shuffled off his mortal coil. The sensation was unlike anything that he had ever experienced before and it was the absence of sensation that was most prevalent with him.
As an ectoplasmic entity he hovered over his body, hit by a bus and lying still somewhat warm and most recently expired, in the midst of the street. Raymond’s body was flung fifty feet forward from where the commuter vehicle had impacted him; his bicycle was caught under its’ tire and the rear wheel of Raymond’s bike continued to spin though Raymond’s own, figurative one, stopped. Raymond’s skull was fine, his having been wearing a bicycle helmet, but his tight-fitting sports clothes; once yellow and black – now a decided shade of crimson and sanguine; were tattered, and jagged bits of his bones stuck out in odd angles and through organs generally thought by the medical community to be bad for a body.
It was not entirely Raymond’s fault that he had been impacted by a bus that severely outweighed him in both weight and potential velocity; he had swung his bicycle out into traffic in order to avoid a baby stroller that had begun to careen into the street. His momentary impact with it slowed the momentum of the stroller enough to give the mother a chance to regain a hold of it, but was at the same time enough of a force to propel Raymond into the path of the M116 approaching on Duke Ellington Blvd. Raymond did not survive this chance encounter with the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and would not live to regret it, though regret it he would.
As Raymond took in the scene: the screaming mother aware that she had inadvertently caused a bike messenger to be killed; the cool-though-clearly-disturbed response from the bus driver radioing his headquarters for an ambulance; the morbid curiosity of the pedestrians that gathered around the mass that had once been Raymond Filmore; he experienced a new sensation through his incorporeal form. It was a waving, a quaking, like a gentle tugging on the sleeve of his spandex shirt and Raymond saw two gaping holes – one above him, one below, that sought to draw him in, but neither more insistent than the other, neither very insistent at all.
Cooly, Raymond considered what these two portals meant, the choices before him and the answer seemed obvious. Smiling, Raymond stretched himself to the higher portal and began to feel the effect of his choice – choirs sang and daylight exploded into a rare radiance reserved for those who can see the full spectrum of what light truly is: not having eyes any longer made Raymond one of those individuals. The sense of rightness and resolution filled Raymond Filmore as he lazily floated toward his eternity…and yet.
Raymond looked about with a sense of consternation; a feeling of unfinished business filled his wispy self and suddenly he was uncertain of that he was ready for this decision. What was it that he was forgetting? A voice that Raymond did not recognize, and certainly not as human, suddenly cut through his consciousness.
The voice was not in Raymond’s head, for he no longer had one that housed his consciousness, and “mind” was not quite right, because that implies consciousness housed in a cranium, but the entity that was now Raymond Filmore rippled with the thought that moved through and took a hold of him. It did not move through the air, and hence had no sound, but it was distinctly not a thought that Raymond possessed himself, and certainly not one that Raymond would have imposed upon himself.
The message of the ephemeral intrusion was this: “I got a job for you, kid; you ain’t goin’ nowhere.” The voice, though distinctly New Yorker, was not like any New Yorker that has or ever will exist: less that of a dialect, or an inflection, or an intonation, it was with a sense of authority and confidence. Yes, it was confidence that exuded from the stray, possessing thought that filled Raymond Filmore now, and as suddenly as the portals had opened they shut and Raymond was left there an entity alone amidst the throngs that examined still his broken being lying in the street.
All the world melted away then and Raymond found himself in an office, a rather menial looking office at that: loaded with stacks of paper and surrounded by filing cabinets, each one labeled with a month and a year.
“What is this? Where am I?” Raymond found himself thinking more than speaking. He had an air of puzzlement and a ring of authority to the thought. It reverberated through the files and got caught in the wall; the feedback from the information stored in the filed looped back into Raymond’s consciousness and he cringed in pain.
“Yeah, you’re gonna wanna be careful with how loud you think as an apparition. You’ll get more than you bargained for.” Names and dates flooded into Raymond’s knowledge bank as he looked up to see the incorporeal form seated before him. This was clearly its office, but what it was did not become clear. The thing was a blob, an undulating shape, its’ colors shifting through every spectrum both seen and unseen before. “As to what this is: it’s The Haunting Agency, InC. That stands for Incorporeal Company. You’re here because as a recently deceased being with something left to do, yer under my purview up until your contract with me is up…or you get reincarnated, whichever comes first.”
“Haunting…Agency?” Raymond tried to wrap his head around the idea but as he no longer had a head he found that a very hard thing to do indeed.
“Yeah. Haunting Agency. What, you think we let the non-bodied just haunt around all wily-nily? No, you got an assignment. Now, as to that, I have a couple options for you.” The blobbish entity undulated then from emerald to ultraviolet.
“I think there’s been some kind of mistake.” Raymond interjected.
“Are you recently departed?”
“Uhm…yes, I think so, but….”
“And were you up until a few moments ago one Raymond Ian Filmore?”
“Well, yes, but….”
“Then there’s been no mistake; I have the requisition form right here.” The color-shifting entity pushed a rather large file toward Raymond as its color moved from sapphire to ruby and into a rather bright lavender. Raymond opened it hesitantly. “Signed by all three interested Parties.”
The front page had a requestion form. It stated that Raymond was to be assigned to The Haunting Agency. it was signed by someone signing as “God,” which appeared to be written in a particularly pleasant beam of light; another signed as “Satan,” and seemed to be hastily scrawled with blood and ash; the last was signed by “Bob,” with a black G2 gel pen.
“Who’s Bob?” Raymond asked, absently.
The blob laughed and turned chartreuse. “Who’s Bob? That’s a good one, kid. Real knee-slapper…if I had knees I’d be slappin’ them. Anyway, look, I got three slots you can fill. I got an electronics factory in China: it’ll give you a shorter term of service due to conditions. There’s a bluff in Scotland: beautiful view if a bit boring; long service ’cause you’ve got to meet your quota and practically no one goes up there except for tourists and the occasional kids looking for a snog or pirate treasure. And I got a library here in New York. That’s usually an upper-tier, career position, but one of my guys there got re-upped and I need to fill it quick. I were you I’d take that one – unless you’ve always wanted to visit China or Scotland.”
“Great, it’s settled then. We’ll just get you to Processing. You need to get briefed on the project, pick up your chains, and get your scent. Then back to New York to haunt the stacks.”
“Yeah, it’s oleander. Proprietary. Every Haunting Group has one. Ghosting House uses lavender; Apparitions Inc. has fried onions. We use oleander. It’s pleasant but has that quick association with death.”