Afterlife Salesman

 

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Introduction

Prologue 

“Is this Lisette Anne Virgee?” asked the voice on the other end of the phone.

The elderly woman replied warily, “Yes? Who is this?"

“My apologies ma’am, I am a representative from Stork and I was just making a follow up call to make sure you have the correct appointment and time for your meeting with our associate.”

A cat meowed loudly by her ear in the phone, “Shoo! Can’t you tell that mommy is on the phone? Go outside. I’m sorry, what was that?"

While the woman opened a window to let her cat on the fire escape the man repeated the question.

“Oh my, yes, I have it right here on my fridge. It says noon, today.”

The man waited for her to tell him the address, but she did not say anything else, she had just realized that the cat had jumped down from the fire escape. She was currently covering her mouth piece while trying to get the cat to come back up towards her.

“Did they give you the address, ma’am?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, yes they did. Just give me a moment, will you?”

The man said he would as the woman leaned out the window to try and get her cat to come back, but it had ran off to a dumpster behind the apartment. She did not have time for this, she was dressed and ready to go, it was a little after ten and she wanted to get her early lunch today at the deli across town before her meeting.

Another cat tried to sneak its way onto the fire escape, but she closed the window so she would not lose another one of her precious babies into the dirty city streets below her. The cat that had escaped had a fancy for all things garbage and she always found him in the same place, inside the dumpster out back. She would get him later.

“I’m back. Sorry, my cat just leapt out of the window…”

“We can send someone down to make sure he is okay for you, ma’am if you want. We have an associate that has a meeting in your area in about a half hour - ”

She interrupted him before he finished, “I don’t want you to go through all that trouble, Leo is just a bit of trouble, but he’s a good kitty. He will be fine.”

“So the address that you have…?” asked the man.

“Oh my, yes…” The woman told him the address.

“Alright, Miss Lisette Anne Virgee, we shall see you in a few short hours. Thank you for choosing Stork for all of your – ”

She hung up the phone before he could finish. She was already paying a lot for what they were doing for her, her time was valuable, they did not need to call her every damn day, to make sure she was still going through with it. She was too old to double think herself.

She grabbed her floral cane and headed out the door to make the 10:30 bus. 

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tom slaughter

Ryan, two questions did you get any feedback on your story after the message of being in top 5. I remember that it would be going to publisher for viewing. Also someone in your list of commenting followers stated , she word help edit your story. Anything on that? Nice short story

Teboho Kooma de Bie

Ryan you really have a wonderful idea with story! I have never come across anything like it.
As you already know, it needs some editing, and some of your sentence structures need polishing up, but my biggest comment for you is that I feel that you might actually have two stories in this.
Hal is a funny character who experiences lots of funny, quirky things, and you could have a story based on Hal's "series of unfortunate events".

I feel that the very fine descriptions of Hal's morning activities makes it take too long to finally get around to this freakin' incredible job interview that Hal goes to.

The fact that he'd been unemployed for a while and was starting to lose hope and maybe evening bumming around the house taking care of Vinnie, when this weird job appears, could really be expressed in about 6 paragraphs. Then he could go out for the milk, see the weird desks and then you take things from there. Smaller elements like the shopkeeper encounter could be used in another Hal story, because they're not really essential in progressing the Salesman's story - but they are still funny and worth a mention in some form.
I know your work is your baby and it sounds very much like I'm suggesting you give your baby a haircut, and maybe chop an ear and arm off while you're at it (that's how I feel when I have to edit!!!) but the result is often worth that initial pain of pressing 'delete' or cutting out chunks to set aside for use in another story.
But all that aside, you have a brilliant idea on your hands Ryan, and I can't wait to see it in print. Congratulations mate!

paula

Ryan, a great read. It hits all aspects of a good story-suspense, romance, mystery and you left the reader wanting more....Great Job. Looking forward to reading the ending and a next story...

Michelle Dupuis

Hi Ryan, looking forward to reading on, I'm on chapter eight, thanks for finding me, if I can be of help with editing I will make an attempt but editing is as you know not my strong point, hope you have plenty of hot chocolate and cookies for Christmas, Michelle

Chapter 1

Hal Brandon

Job Searching

An Awkward Encounter

It had been a while since Hal Brandon had had to look for a job.

 It had not been an easy feat. It still was not easy. He still sat in front of his computer day after day. He would wake up in the morning and look. Around lunchtime he would make sure to glance around some more. Even right before he went to bed, even though he knew nothing would change, he checked again.

Finding a job was tiring.

Half the time he would fall asleep with his custom-made computer still on. It would still be chugging away with its constant slight hum of cooling fans. The slight increase of heat in his room, from the constant running of his slightly larger than normal computer, made it feel as if the air was blankets that came to greet him, making it harder to stay awake. The screen would be spreading its plasma light around the room. It no longer bothered him. The first few days it had and he had some severe migraines. Now it just felt like a normal part of his day.

He had been fired from his second job for no good reason.

He was always at ends with one of the employees, which he was pretty sure was sleeping with his boss. Little did he know that it was not the employee-that-he-was-at-ends-with, but the employee-that-he-was-at-ends-with’s little sister, who had just got engaged to said boss. So the boss and employee-that-he-was-at-ends-with, were very close.

It was a small job in retail. Hal knew that it would have never amounted to much, but he worked full-time, which meant health insurance, the pay was a few dollars above minimum wage, and if he stayed in the company for more than five years more benefits would have punched in making it a job he could stay in for a long time.

He never wanted to stay at the job for too long, but he was already there for four years, so those benefits were just around the corner. That was until the firing.

He was accused of stealing some clothes.

Hal had never even purchased any clothes from the store that he worked at, he just never found them appealing, but still he was accused of stealing them. Apparently there was footage on the camera’s proving it. He knew that it was said-employee-that-hated-him that set him up for it, but he did not care. He left knowing that he could find another job.

That was forty-eight days ago.

Hal was not counting or anything.

He got up from bed. He squinted and saw that the clock on his computer read 10:14 in the morning. Another typical wake-up for him.

He enjoyed being able to sleep until the later morning. He woke up on his own accord, rather than his alarm clock’s. It was probably the only thing that he liked, while being unemployed.

He went over to his computer and slid his keyboard tray out towards his lap. He sat down in his over-used faux leather chair and almost immediately started to pick at the deteriorating arm rest. A few pieces of the fake black leather stuck to his fingers.

He grabbed his mouse and clicked on his internet icon. He had set his internet to always open for all of the job sites that he always checked. While it loaded he took a look to the left of the screen, where there was a large pile of newspapers. He also checked the classifieds for open jobs. He did not know why he did. There was never much in there.

Newsprint was a dying breed nowadays, but every once in a while a job was posted. Normally it was for a nanny. He still applied to those jobs as well, but they were always looking for a well-qualified female nanny. Not a male one that had no experience.

He applied for everything.

Car washing specialist, floor care specialist, dog grooming specialist, he realized that for some reason everyone wanted to be called a specialist. He just wanted to be called, employed.

He applied for internships, management positions (even though he had no experience in these fields), data entry, and even other retail sales positions, but he never got any calls back.

Correction: he never got any calls back asking to interview him. The companies sometimes called him to say that he was not qualified.

His computer was acting rather slowly today, so he got up and went to go get his morning newspaper of the day.

He stood up and opened his door. The sunlight from the living room, reflected off of his hardwood floors and temporarily scorched his corneas. He blocked the sun’s rays with a hand, while his eyes adjusted.

His bare feet shuffled towards the front door.

With his eyes finally adjusted he grabbed the knob and opened the door, where he saw the newspaper. He crouched down to get it and saw that one of his neighbors was standing in front of him.

It was the little old lady that lived with her three cats from down the hall. Hal and his roommate called her Cat-thy, but they actually had no idea what her name was. She was the typical older woman. He hair was white and curly and cut short. She had all the wrinkles to tell you exactly how old she was. Her can was plastered in cheesy flowers, which could be purchased at any pharmacy in the country. She even wore a matching flowery dress, which Hal had no idea where she could have possibly found that, but he assumed that it was from pharmacies as well.  

“Hello, ma’am, nice day today, eh?” Hal said giving her his best smile and a wave with his newspaper.

She looked at him for a moment with a smile about to spread across her face, when suddenly she saw something she did not like, disgusted then quickly blossomed across her wrinkly cheeks and she hurried, as much as she could hurry, off with a sound of contempt.

Hal was confused, but realized it was probably because he was still in his pajamas.

He normally wore nothing but a set of boxers, which he was currently wearing.A set that was maroon with little pictures of bull dogs, splattered all over it.

“She must really hate bulldogs…” he muttered to himself as he closed the door to his apartment.

He slid back into his room, only after stopping in the kitchen to start brewing some coffee. It had an alarm so he would be able to hear when it was finished. He saw that he was nearly out of milk, which was all his roommate's doing. He cursed him and his family for a thousand years over the slight that his roommate caused him.

When Hal got back into his room, he tossed the newspaper onto his bed to read later. He made sure to refresh all of the tabs that were open in his browser. Then he started the never ending search of jobs. He saw the normal jobs that were always available, which he could not apply for, that is without the proper training and licenses.

He saw CNA jobs, RN jobs, security jobs, truck driving and teaching jobs. All of which he could not do. He was not a trained nurse, he did not have his security license (even though by now he was starting to wonder if he should try and get one), he did not have his license for driving massive trucks, and he did not have a master’s in his field of study (which most teaching jobs asked for).

Hal was an artist at heart, but a Psychology major on his diploma. He loved to be able to make things, especially on his computer. He was a Photoshop guru, but almost anyone with a computer and Google could find out how to do what he did. He no longer used his Photoshop skills unless it was for something to give him money.

In school, he took a few computer classes, and aced them all. It was all stuff he had found out in his spare time anyways. The other classes were the ones that he had to focus on. He went for psychology mainly because he had no idea what to do otherwise. He found a lot of students that were in the same field as him for the same reasons.

While at school he had his second job in the school store. It sold school supplies, books, drinks, snacks, condoms, medicine, anything a student body needed to get through the next four years of their lives.

He worked underneath Gustavo Hume.

Gustavo was, for lack of a better word, an idiot.

He was a business major who got the job, mainly because of his field of study and partly because his father was the one who founded the store twenty years earlier. The store ran fine, until Gustavo came around.

It was called the Campus Bookstore, not a creative name, but that was the name.

Gustavo thought that since the name was the Bookstore, that all they should sell was books. He had them all get rid of school supplies, drinks, snacks, condoms, and medicine, and replaced them all with books. Any book that they could get their hands on was put out. The store shrank in size within a day. Students came in outraged that they could no longer buy pens and pencils or the occasional chocolate milk.

Gustavo was reamed out by the school for destroying what had worked for so many years. And for the rest of the four years Hal worked with him, he was downright impossible to work with.

The pay was horrible, but the discount in the store was nice. He was able to buy his school books for fifteen percent off, which was a lot when a single book would sometimes be near the hundred dollar mark.

Gustavo however made it hard to stay there, he would try and change things on a regular basis to accelerate their income, but it always lowered it. He would always blame it on his ‘crew’, which was what he called his employees.

Hal was surprised that he stayed there the whole four years, no one else did. Neither did his current roommate, Vinnie. Hal was jealous of Vinnie for getting out, but not jealous for Vinnie and his current job.

Vinnie graduated with a degree in English, but could not find a job as well, so he currently worked as a janitor in the college that they went to. It pays well, he says, but the perks will really come in when either I want to go back to school or if I have any little Vinnies or Vinnettes.

Hal continued to look through the constantly scrolling list of jobs, while reminiscing about Gustavo. His stomach twisted and turned in annoyance (never in hatred) towards his ex-employer, but he wondered where he was now.

“Probably shoving another business venture down the tubes…” Hal said to himself as he highlighted a job that looked good enough to him, “Unless he’s jobless like me…”

The help-wanted sites had nothing new today, except for the one that he highlighted, which was more jobs than the last week he found. He opened the link and began to fill out his resume.

The alarm for the coffee, went off in the other room.

He knew that the coffee would stay hot until he finished. He filled out the resume, with his two previous jobs listed. He wrote down two college teachers, which liked his work in college and a neighbor with whom he mowed a lawn for when he was younger. He did not have much experience.

He hit send when he was done writing a cover letter, which gave them everything he hoped they wanted to hear about him. About how he was a great student and worked in retail for most of his life and how he was looking not just for a job, but for a career in their business (Vinnie helped him with that line).

He grabbed the newspaper and went into the kitchen to take his coffee.

He set the paper down on the table and opened up to the classifieds and went to the fridge to get the milk. After taking his yellow coffee mug out from the drain board he filled it with the bitter brown liquid and poured in a few dashes of milk. He grabbed a butter knife from the drain board and used it to stir the coffee.

He brought it to the table and took an absentminded sip.

He set the mug on the table and began to look through the classifieds. They were small and there was not much to look for. Again, it was mostly nanny postings, but then his eye caught one. It was an internship. For some reason he recognized the name, but he could not remember why.

He took another sip of his coffee. His mouth puckered at the bitterness of the coffee… and the sourness of the milk.

Sourness?

He looked down and saw curdled white milk floating on the surface. He quickly gagged and ran to the sink to spit out the coffee he had just drank. He poured out the coffee and cursed Vinnie and his family again.

He needed his coffee. It was a problem, he knew, but it was a problem that was easily fixed with coffee.

He went into his room grumbling about how he was going to have his morning coffee closer to lunch now. He walked over to his dresser where he kept his clothes neatly piled in heaps, and pulled out a somewhat nice smelling pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He walked over to his body-length mirror and saw the real reason why Cat-thy had shown disgust.

His boxers were not fully closed in the front and his manhood was out for all to see.

“Oh…” Hal whispered to himself, as he started to slowly turn red from embarrassment. 

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Chapter 2

Romantic Flashbacks

An Eerie Store

Oddity in the Alley

Hal tucked himself away into his boxers and rushed to put on a pair of pants.

“Poor Cat-thy…” he said to himself, wondering if he should tell Vinnie the series of unfortunate events that had just occurred.

He knew Vinnie would have loved it. He could see his friend tearing up from laughing so hard. Hal could also see his friend deciding to put it in his daily blog, which may be a little too much for Hal’s online reputation. He decided that he would figure out if he wanted to tell him or not, after he got the milk for his coffee.

Slipping on his pants, Hal made sure everything was in its proper place and not out for the world to see. A t-shirt was then placed over his head and his arms were shoved through the proper holes. Then he made sure to check his reflection in the mirror, just to double check that everything was alright with his appearance.

He started looking at his sockless feet, wiggling his toes and realizing that he should cut his toe nails soon, they were starting to get fairly long.

His pants and legs looked fine at first glance, his dark blue jeans were not too wrinkled, but if one looked at them long enough would probably notice that they had been worn a few times. He knew that he should do some laundry at some time in the near future. The fly on his pants were zipped up and buttoned, which was so far better off than it was before.

He sighed in relief, but continued his upward glance at himself.

The t-shirt was some brand unknown to him, but it was a solid dark grey shirt. It was some cotton-like material, probably made with a mixture of chemicals and fabrics, to make it seem like cotton, but it was a soft shirt. He liked how soft it was, he even rubbed the fabric between his fingers as he thought this.

He looked at his face.

He never thought himself a terribly handsome fellow, but he knew that he was not ugly. He had normal cheek bones, his nose was not overly large, his ears were bent a little at the top (from some sort of genetic trait), and his lips were a little more full than a normal man. He liked to tell women that he was a good kisser because of that, not many of them had taken him up on that.

That was not to mean that he had not kissed a girl before, he had kissed a few handfuls of women. He had kissed a few in high school, but never more than that. In college he found himself with a new girl every other month, but never actually in a relationship, and with some of them he had never even brushed lips with, but his first long-time girlfriend was actually during college.

Her name was Carmella Provenza. She was an Italian beauty. He considered himself one of the lucky guys. She liked most of the same things that he liked. She was a dark haired wonder, she had large and inviting eyes. When he looked inside of them he always had felt that he could stare into them for hours. He felt like if a relationship is supposed to last, it firstly requires that the couple can look into each other’s eyes, without getting bored or any less entranced than when they first met.

He could always look into her eyes and never get bored, but apparently she did.

He did not hold anything against her.

They went to high school together, but she really blossomed during her first year of college. They went to different schools, but met each other when they were home from their first year at the mall. He saw her from across the way and recognized her, but she was the one who instigated the first conversation. They hit it off right away.

She was also his first and only, sexually of course. He loved her, but she seemed to only love him until she realized that she did not.

She liked him, but not loved him.

 And after a few years of dating, mostly on weekends and vacations their relationship fizzled out. He knew that it was happening as it happened and he loved her enough to let her go. For a while it was painful, mainly because they remained extremely close friends.

So close in fact that she started to date Vinnie, his roommate, and they had been dating for the past year. Hal was fine with it and happy that they were together, and was even happier that his two best friends in the world, were always around to be with. He just did not feel comfortable when they decided to… mate... when he was home. And they knew it, so they tried to be quieter or wait until he was not home. Vinnie sometimes reminded Hal that he liked being an Eskimo brother with him. And Hal laughed, but found it slightly upsetting.

He still loved her, but liked better to see her happy.

And she was.

Hal looked at the stubble on his face and rubbed his hand across the short and prickly hairs, he liked it being like this, but he knew girls did not, he should shave it soon. His hair was still messy from sleep, but he always let it stay short, so most people would think that it was just stylized.

He nodded in approval and grabbed his wallet off the dresser, and he flipped through the small bills to see if he had enough to grab some milk, and saw that he probably had enough for a half gallon. He made his way to the front door and snagged the keys from the dish near the entrance.

He locked the door and made his way out of the apartment.

He lived in an area where it was close to a convenience store, a barber shop, two Chinese food restaurants, a massage parlor, a delicatessen, a McDonalds, a municipal parking lot, and this really swell burrito restaurant that Hal went to once or twice a week.

The convenience store was only two blocks from his apartment building. He passed the bus stop and saw a familiar floral pattern. Cat-thy was sitting on the bench waiting for the next bus. She saw him out of the corner of her eye and she squinted at him. He could tell that she was not too happy to see him so shortly after their last encounter.

Hal turned red almost immediately and pretended that he did not see her. He ran a hand through his hair and made it seem like he was trying to flatten one of his cowlicks. He did not stop until he was a store away from his neighbor.

As he lowered his hand he looked down the alleyway on the side of the store and he saw a man standing there with a briefcase. He had a very nervous look about him, much like a cat that heard a loud noise in another room of the house. Hal had seen a lot of people like him, much of them were trying to be conspicuous while buying drugs or waiting for some other unsavory character.

The man turned just as Hal made his way into the store to buy his half gallon of milk.

He went to the back of the store and looked down and saw that most of the milk was already gone. He assumed it was because their shipment had not come in yet. He normally bought two percent milk, but they were out of that in half gallons, so he had to rely on whole milk this time.

He went up to the cash register and saw that the store manager was nowhere in sight. The store was eerily empty. He could smell the tobacco and salty snack smell throughout the building, it would probably stay there even years after the store was gone. He wondered how long a store like this would stay in business, or even if it would ever go out of business. He always saw people in here, but today it was completely empty.

“Hello?” Hal called out, hoping to get someone’s attention, “Is anyone there?”

He waited a few moments, mostly looking at the variety of scratch-off tickets that were in a display case in front of them. They all promised the chance of winning thousands and sometimes millions of dollars.

No one was there.  

He had never done what he was about to do, but he had no idea how long he would have to wait.

He walked over to the cooler where the milk was located and saw how much it cost. He tried his best to factor in whatever tax was need on the milk, but he knew that he was probably going to be off, as he was never good with math.

He figured that the price was going to be somewhere between three and four dollars. He wondered if he should short change the cashier or if he should give a little extra just in case.

“Hello?” Hal called one last time.

He felt awkward leaving the money there, he felt that if he did, that someone may take it. Someone who was not affiliated with the store. He took out his wallet and thumbed through the bills. He had five singles on him. That was it.

He sighed, he knew that his bank account was running on fumes, but he over-charged himself on the milk anyways. He knew that he would not be able to live with the guilt of short-changing the store for a half gallon of milk.

He made his way outside with milk in hand just as a bus passed.

He caught a glimpse of a flowery dress and the scowling face that it wore at the top. Cat-thy was glowering at him from her bus seat, this time Hal did not have enough time to hide his face from her and he felt the heat rush to his cheeks. He looked down at the cracked concrete as he began to make his way home.

“At least she is disgusted instead of eager for more…” he joked to himself.

Then he thought, but what if she thought that it was inadequate, that would have been a whole other story. One he would rather not think about. He felt himself move his hands to his crotch, just in case his fly had opened, which it had not.

He pulled his hands away and moved past the alleyway to the store.

Hal glanced down and stopped in his tracks. The man with the briefcase was still there, but now he was sitting in a chair which was situated in front of a large ornate wooden desk. If Hal knew the type of wood that it was he would have probably been impressed, because it was dark amber color and the lacquer was exquisite. It all looked rather expensive.

Behind the desk was another man, he wore small spectacles on the tip of his nose and he was looking at some paperwork on the desk. They were both in a hushed conversation, but it looked very intense.

Then it hit Hal. There was a large, very heavy, very expensive-looking desk… in the middle of the alleyway. How did it get there? Better yet, how did it get there in the amount of time that it took him to pay too much for a half gallon of milk?

The man behind the counter with the spectacles looked up at Hal, and for a moment Hal thought he gave a surprised look. Hal probably looked more surprised than he did, but the man gave a quick nod in his direction and...

“Sir!” said a thick Middle Eastern accent from the doorway of the convenience store.

Hal turned to the voice and saw the manager of the store rushing to him, “Sir! You gave me too much, sir!”

The man ran towards him with a handful of change. Hal must have overcompensated for the tax as he almost received a full dollar back. A bright flash suddenly emitted from the alleyway, which Hal tried to look at, but the store owner blocked his field of vision.

“Sorry, sir! I was in the bathroom and did not here you. Here is your change, sir. Have a nice day, sir!”

The man did not let Hal get a response out at all before he ran into the store. Hal glanced at the change in his hand and he could hear whatever foreign language that the man spoke normally blast from a speaker of a television, as he turned it back on.

Hal pushed the change into his front pocket and looked back into the alleyway.

The desk, chairs, and man with the spectacles was gone. The man with the briefcase however was still there, but now he was sans the briefcase. He looked less nervous now and a lot more relaxed and happy. He strolled out from the alleyway. The briefcaseless man was clearly holding onto something in his hand that looked to be very valuable to him because he clenched his fist as if he may lose it at any instant.

He saw Hal and gave a vigorous, yet quiet salutation with a quick incline of his head. Hal repaid the favor by inclining his own head and to Hal’s surprise the man began to skip. Hal had never seen anyone skip in public before, other than little girls, but the man was positively skipping with joy away.

Hal stared after him for a few more moments before realizing that his hand was frigid from holding the milk and he slowly made his way back to his apartment. 

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