It was the worst funeral that Glenn Reepar had ever attended.
That was saying a lot. In the twenty-seven years since Glenn had been reviewing funeral services for Dead Dudes Monthly, Brampton’s main trade magazine for the death-care industry, he’d been to some doozies. He’d given plenty of one-star ratings before. The polka fan who’d requested in his will that his service would include constant background music by local accordionists. The middle-aged businessman who’d succumbed to a heart attack while boning a local sex worker – the only people who’d come to that brief service had been his company contacts, and they’d later spent the entire reception exchanging business cards. And, of course, the reclusive ninety-six-year-old lady who’d been found lying on the kitchen floor, five days dead, her face half-eaten by her seventeen cats.
OSHAWA FUNERAL A REAL CAT-TASTROPHE, the headline for that last one had stated. Glenn had compared her service to “being locked in a room with Tyler Perry’s worst film playing on repeat for three days, while being served castor-oil cupcakes baked by Rudolf Hess,” adding that “even Ms. Nordstrom’s feline friends could have delivered better eulogies and tributes than these morons.” He was still proud of that review, for its utter mercilessness.
But this funeral – this was even worse. He couldn’t think of a specific reason why it was worse, other than its excruciating dullness. For starters, he was the only attendee. No friends, no relatives, no work colleagues, not even a well-meaning neighbour. Leading the entire service was an elderly man in priest’s garb, standing on a front platform beside an open coffin and seemingly killing time by reciting the Bible’s least interesting verses in a bored monotone.
“… And Cainan lived seventy years and begat Mahalaleel,” the priest droned on. “And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years and begat sons and daughters, and all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died. And Mahalaleel lived sixty-five years, and begat Jared…” And so on.
And yet… they weren’t in a cathedral. Or even in a church. The room was like a medium-sized town hall, but strangely bare. The walls were blank and light blue, bordering on white, with no windows or decoration. Glenn sat in the second row from the front, on the left side, in a sea of white, plastic chairs. He couldn’t remember where the door was or how he’d entered the room.
He suddenly realized that he couldn’t even remember making the trip to the funeral. Or where the venue was located. Or the name of the deceased. Was he that bored already?
“And Methuselah lived a hundred and eighty-seven years and begat Lamech,” the priest continued. “And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred and eighty-two years, and begat sons and…”
Yes, of course it was the boredom. Glenn was on the verge of falling asleep. He hadn’t jotted down any notes on the service, since nothing had struck him as noteworthy.
Times sure have changed, he thought. He remembered back when Dead Dudes Monthly had had a bigger budget and been able to fly him to high-profile funerals around the world. Princess Di in London in ’97? Now that had been a service. Westminster Abbey had been the perfect setting, for all the royal pomp and pageantry you could want. So many celebrities and bigwigs. So much sincere grief and remembrance. Even that shitty Elton John song hadn’t been able to spoil it. And that big Michael Jackson memorial in L.A. in 2009 – not technically a funeral, sure, but well within Glenn’s professional scope. “A perfect mix of magic and crazy,” Glenn had written for the mag, “which made it the only appropriate tribute to the King of Pop himself.”
“And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died,” the priest recited. “And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begat Glenn Reepar, who begat a full career of horrendous funeral reviews and then died a horrible, painful, choking death, and then Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and…”
Glenn almost jumped out of his seat.
“Whoah!” he called up at the reader. “Excuse me? What did you just say?”
The priest stopped and looked up from his Bible. “Yes, my son?”
“Did… did you just say my name?”
The priest blinked, then looked down at the scriptures again, and then looked back at Glenn.
“Why,” he replied, with an embarrassed smile, “yes. Yes, Mr. Reepar. I believe I may have.” Then the priest looked back down at the scriptures and continued. “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply—”
“How in the hell—” He caught himself. “Excuse my language, Father, but how do you know who I am?”
The priest smiled again, and offered a small shrug.
“Well, who else would you be?” he said. “This service was put together… only for you.”
“I, uh, don’t understand,” he said.
The priest indicated the coffin. “Would you like to come and pay your respects?”
“Me?” Glenn snorted. “But I’m just here as a reviewer. I don’t know this person.” He paused. “I don’t even remember who this person is.”
“I think you do,” said the priest, pointing at the open coffin lid.
Glenn felt a slight shiver down his neck and back.
The priest kept pointing stiffly at the coffin. Glenn couldn’t help being reminded of Charles Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas Future.
He got up and approached the coffin.
The priest was right. Glenn had known all along. Somehow, he hadn’t known that he’d known.
He marvelled at how young his corpse looked. Whoever had embalmed him had done a fine job, smoothing out most of the forehead wrinkles and covering the acne scars. His greying hair was now as brown as it had been ten years before. His expression was fully at peace.
Glenn blinked and then took a deep breath.
“Okay,” he said. “Does this mean I’m…”
He looked back up to the priest, but the priest had disappeared.
And so had the room, Glenn suddenly realized. The walls, the chairs, the coffin – all gone.
He now found himself in a completely black, silent space. Nobody and nothing seemed to be there. It was so empty, even Glenn didn’t seem to be there.
And then, something was coming towards him – or was he going there? He couldn’t see, hear or feel anything, but he somehow sensed beings growing closer to him. It could have taken a second, or it could have taken a year, but now they were there, right in front of him.
He felt the presence of a large ball of light. That’s all it was – light. Yet Glenn knew that it was sentient, that it had a soul.
Glenn also sensed many other entities – maybe hundreds – hovering around the ball of light. He had a strange feeling of déja vu when he focused on some of them.
He also had the feeling that all of these smaller beings were pissed off at him.
If Glenn could have blinked in surprise at that moment, he would have. Holy shit, he thought, that can’t be Princess Diana over there, can it? And the polka lover too? What the—
GLENN REEPAR, the ball of light said to him. Glenn couldn’t hear this – he just felt it as a thought wave transmitted to him.
“Uh, yes?” said Glenn.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE TO SHOW ME? the light asked.
Glenn paused to take the question in.
“Well…” he replied. “Uh… I’ve written a lot of brilliant critiques of funeral services.”
The ball of light didn’t answer. Glenn felt a common reaction from many of the smaller entities, though. It seemed to be the spiritual equivalent of rolling their eyes.
“And… when I was young,” he added, “I also wrote a loving tribute to Brian Mulroney, after he resigned. It got reprinted across Canada, in all the Sun newspapers.”
There was a brief pause.
THAT’S NOT VERY GOOD, IS IT? the light responded.
“But my funeral reviews got nominated for a few awards,” said Glenn. “I almost won a Kenneth R. Wilson Memorial Award in 2011.”
The light paused again before responding. Glenn had the impression that the light was doing its closest approximation of a face-palm gesture.
WE HAVE A DIFFERENT STORY, the light said. CARE TO HEAR IT?
All the smaller spirits around the light began chattering away.
“Not really,” said Glenn.
And suddenly, Glenn could see again – but only one thing. In front of him was a giant opened magazine, and on the left page was an article with an unflattering photo of Glenn, smiling vacantly, probably taken while he was drunk at some reception.
DOUCHEBAG JOURNALIST WASTES LIFE, the glaring title read, followed by a rating of zero stars out of five.
“Glenn Reepar was a real dick,” the opening text read. “Make no mistake about it. A total dick. Nobody liked him because he was so self-centred and amorally career-minded. What a dick, huh? A real jackass. And he wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was, either. Totally overrated as a journalist, too. I mean, come on. Who’d want to have anything to do with such a douche anyway?…”
Glenn didn’t read much further than that.
“That’s not nice,” he said. “And it’s the most amateurish review I’ve ever read. A high-school kid could’ve written it. Can’t you hire better writers?”
THAT’S NOT ALL WE’VE GOT, said the being of light. TAKE A LOOK AT THIS ONE.
The magazine faded, and in its place appeared an old, yellowed newspaper copy. It was the Chicago Sun-Times. Glenn recognized the grey-haired, chubby, bespectacled, smiling face in the photo at the top of the column – a face he’d seen on television many times, accompanied by a thumb.
“I hated Glenn Reepar,” Roger Ebert’s column reads. “Hated hated hated hated hated this guy. Hated him. Hated every simpering, stupid, vacant moment of his life. Hated the sensibility that anyone would like his reviews. Hated the implied insult to his readers that…”
“Yeah,” said Glenn, “well, so what? Ebert was too fat anyway.”
UH HUH, said the light. HERE’S ANOTHER ONE.
The newspaper morphed into a copy of The New Yorker. Judging from the illustration of Richard Nixon on the cover, Glenn assumed that it was from the ’60s or ’70s. The magazine opened to the arts section, showing an ugly caricature of Glenn beside another review, which was titled THE FRIGHTENING AWFULNESS OF GLENN REEPAR.
“How could you spend a minute in Glenn Reepar’s company without kicking him in the teeth?” Pauline Kael’s pan began. “Reepar was the most disturbingly abhorrent human being since Stalin, and at least Stalin would have written better reviews…”
“Oh, who cares?” whined Glenn. “What did she know? She hated Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Then the magazine turned into a giant desktop computer. The screen displayed a web browser with a familiar red banner at the top and a big green splotch, beside the figure “0%,” under another unpleasant pic of Glenn.
“Glenn Reepar had nothing of value to contribute to the human race,” Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus declared, “due to his sub-par personality and total indifference to professional scruples.”
Glenn shrugged. “I never listen to what the Internet says anyway.”
The computer vanished in an instant. All the smaller spirits seemed to be grumbling to each other.
LOOK, the light said, THE POINT IS, IT’S NOT YOUR TIME YET. YOU’RE JUST NOT READY FOR THE NEXT PHASE OF SPIRITUAL EXISTENCE.YOU’VE GOT TO GO BACK.
“Okay,” said Glenn, a little confused. “Back where?”
THE PHYSICAL REALM. JUST GO BACK AND START DOING BETTER.
“Oh.” Pause. “You mean, aim for a Pulitzer?”
Glenn sensed all the smaller beings groaning with impatience.
OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, the light said. JUST BUGGER OFF, GLENN.
* * * * *
Glenn found himself lying on the floor of his own condo kitchen, wearing nothing but underwear under a robe, choking. A small, wet, chewed-up piece of toast fell on the floor.
Well, that was fucked up, he thought as he caught his breath.
He wasn’t sure if the whole thing had been a hallucination. If so, it had been a really vivid one.
But the experience had inspired Glenn. Of course! He knew exactly what he had to do now.
He quickly cleaned up the mess, ran to his word processor and typed:
THE WORST NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE EVER
Too blunt a heading, he knew, but he could always go back and revise it. “It was about 9:30 on the morning of June 25th, when a mishap with brunch shoved me right into the Plan 9 from Outer Space of near-death experiences,” he typed furiously. “I may never hear a better argument in favour of keeping in perfect health and living forever, than as a way to put off going through this tedious nonsense again…”
He moved the cursor under the tentative title and added, “ * (out of *****)”. And he laughed. Already, he could feel the wheels of critical genius turning inside his mind. Pulitzer, here we come!