A Smoker’s Tale After Life

Fred was a simple man with simple tastes. He just hung around people who accepted him; he believed everyone was better than him. Like most of us, he loved to feel wanted and to be part of something. Others saw him as a simpleton who could be conned into doing anything. This often landed Fred in trouble as he was the go-to person when a scapegoat was needed. He accepted his fate, never angry or hurtful to anyone. Just accepting. 

(Audio version created in Eleven Labs.)

Fred was executed for a crime he did not commit. His ‘friends’ assured him that if he took the blame, they’d get him off easily. Their motivation to free him faded in an instant once he was found guilty of the heinous crime.

He ended up in a cemetery that had rules. And those rules were set in stone. 

Rule the Second: It is hereby decreed that there shall be no smoking within the confines of coffins or vaults situated in the said cemetery.

Fred scavenged for cigarettes and puffed away near his unmarked grave on the far side of the cemetery. With no visitors and no neighbours, Fred resigned himself to his fate, as he had always done; whereas on the other side of the cemetery there was a complex soul who was opposite to Fred in every way. At his stately tomb, the maestro of self-interest, Mr Aberdare, would sit outside his grotesquely adorned vault, with pipe and tobacco smoke a symbol of his status. The cemetery’s Spirit Manager, Vesper, ruled the graveyard with an iron fist. As a former warden from Purgatory, she loved rules and ensured they were adhered to without question. No favours to anyone, especially those monkeys (her words) who attempted to use their former status as a right to special treatment. To the wealthy, this cemetery was hell; to Fred, it was life as normal.

Appendix to Rule the Second: No person, living or deceased, shall engage in the act of smoking upon the grounds of the cemetery, whether it be above or below the earth.

The new rule meant Fred and Mr Aberdare had to leave the sacred grounds if they craved a smoke. An unlikely pair, Aberdare with his Dunhill pipe packed with Dr Pat tobacco and Fred puffing on bumpers, were forced to move outside the cemetery gates. And just like in the alive world, these mismatched people were forced together. An acquaintance was formed based on their mutual craving of tobacco. 

This chance friendship grew, and after a time they enjoyed each other’s company. Aberdare was a ruthless businessman when he was alive and was surprised that he was sent to Limbo and not Heaven. On the other hand, Fred was also surprised but in a different way. He assumed he would have gone straight to Hell, even though he wasn’t guilty of any crime. The two unlikely friends rarely spoke on personal issues. They’d meet many times through the day and night, and smoke together at the fence. Neither of them dared break the cemetery rules. Then a totally unexpected event left Fred humbled and honoured. Mr Aberdare allowed him a puff on his pipe. It was a touching moment in Fred’s life.

New arrivals were never greeted, as this was a confusing time for them. Most were horrified to learn they were in Limbo. And Vesper would be right into them. They learned never to question her authority.

“Heaven help anyone who breaks the smoking rule,” Vesper would often scream at the posthumous newcomers. She was also a non smoker.

Rule the First: Whosoever shall defy the Spirit Manager (Vesper) shall be consigned to a temporary sojourn in Purgatory, the duration of which shall be determined at the sole discretion of the Spirit Manager. 

The incarcerated spirits lived by the rules. Their number one fear was Vesper. The inconveniences and the decomposition of their earthly remains were of secondary concern. Aberdare envied Fred as he was the luckier of the two. His prison coffin and no headstone meant he’d decompose first and off he’d go to Heaven. It was as simple as that. But Aberdare’s vault had more reinforced cement and steel than the Bank of England. He despised his wife for creating such a fortified resting place. Yes, it was the grandest vault in the whole cemetery, according to the living, but to the ungrateful senior, it meant torture. His spirit could not leave Limbo until all had returned to dust. The word ‘all’ was the problem. He was not an engineer, but he suspected that metal and cement would take longer to crumble than flesh, bones and wood. He could be in Limbo forever. When he wasn’t smoking, he was angry. Why? he’d often ask himself. He’d been a generous man to other wealthy people, but he had been denied a place in Heaven all because of an expensive and hideous looking vault. That vault meant hell to him, especially considering his wife might die and join him there. He prayed each day that once she died and the cryonicist froze her, no cure would ever be found for her imaginary diseases.

The thought of her sharing the vault caused him to chain smoke, so he was at the fence more frequently.

Fred was a listener and never judged Mr Aberdare the same as he had done in life. In time, Aberdare saw Fred as a gullible chap who might be the catalyst for an early release from Limbo. He upped the friendship a notch and made Fred feel special––he even allowed him to puff on his pipe more frequently. In time, he took Fred into his confidence, tricking him into believing that he was sharing deep secrets that he had never, ever uttered. Fred was so moved by the elder’s honesty that he nearly shared the story about the prison chaplain, but thought it best to just keep that secret, secret. 

In time, Aberdare suggested to Fred that they swap graves.

“Fred my boy, you’ll live in luxury,” he told him more than once.

With tears flowing, he confessed to Fred that he wanted to get to Heaven earlier and didn’t mind resting in Fred’s mouldy decaying coffin for a shorter time. What he didn’t tell Fred was that moving also meant an escape from his wife should she die and join him. Through years of complaining to Fred about his wife’s personality disorders he knew the man would never agree to swap graves. He doubted Fred would want to share a grand tomb with a woman akin to a blasphemous gargoyle (his words). 

Edict the Twenty-First: Let it be known that spirits may exchange graves one time only, with no further transfers permissible henceforth.

“I’m sorry Mr Aberdare, I will have to think about this. It’s very confusing for me,” confessed Fred.

Fred had no difficulty understanding Aberdare’s request, but chose to marinate the pros and cons of a move. During this time, the senior schemer presented the gullible Fred with a Dunhill pipe and a tin of Dr Pat tobacco. 

After a month, Fred agreed. He had nothing to lose. He was a loner and the opportunity to live in a nice crypt with boxes full of Dr Pat was too good to pass up. And the crypt was well stocked.

The procedures, paperwork and red tape were long and drawn out but were approved. Vesper suspected Aberdare was pulling a shifty but was happy for Fred to have more palatial lodgings. She had taken a liking to Fred and his positive views on life and death. 

In time, Mrs Aberdare passed away and was rushed to the cryogenics facility where she rested frozen as a chop. Then after a few years, her debit card expired and her payments were frozen. Unlike the said Mrs Aberdare, who thawed out, after a diligent work-experience student turned off her cryogenics machine. There was no life left in the old girl.

And in a short time Mrs Aberdare became a fresh addition to the vault. Now two stone caskets lay side by side in the non smoking cemetery.

Mrs Aberdare was beside herself. Instead of waking up to a glorious future of rainbows, pristine lakes and blue skies, she opened her eyes in a coffin. And worse than that, her husband was gone, and she was beside an executed inmate. She was anger spiritified. She shredded Fred to pieces with her sharp tongue. Her gnashing jaws spewed forth obscenities that would make the devil blush.

Her verbal assaults on Fred were heard far and wide, but not for long. Vesper would not tolerate this behaviour in Limbo. Fred was a senior spirit and on top of that, had been wrongly executed and most of all, he was her friend. She sent Mrs Aberdare to Purgatory for a time, just to smarten her up. On Mrs Aberdares return, she was as polite as a little mouse and, after a good thumping from Vesper, applied to move in with her husband. She also hated the prisoner’s guts, as she would tell other spirits. As the Aberdares were still married, Vesper approved the move, neglecting to consult with Mr Aberdare, of course. Fred was her favourite deceased. Besides, she had an intense dislike for the Aberdares. Out of spite she even told the Aberdares that she had allowed Fred to smoke in the crypt, on rainy days.

Proclamation the Thirty-Second: Both parties must assent to a relocation if one incumbent wishes to leave.

Mrs Aberdare asked Fred to sign her transfer form, and he readily agreed. Her constant complaining was causing him grief. He was tired of listening to her woes. So Mrs Aberdare was reunited with her husband in Fred’s original grave. At long last the Aberdares were together once again albeit in spirit only. Fred’s body was still there decaying nicely. The former widow Aberdare was furious; she had mistakenly believed her corpse would have been moved too but now she was trapped with rotten Fred (her words).

Vesper had to remind her more than once that the Spirit Manager’s authority was over spirits, not corpses. With the threat of another spell in Purgatory, Mrs Aberdare accepted her spiritual fate.

Mr Aberdare assured her over and over and over, that it was to their advantage. The tiny new grave with its absence of worldly possessions meant all would turn to dust shortly and they’d be off to Heaven whereas their old vault could last forever considering the junk she had piled into it. After a time she understood and accepted the cramped conditions and inconveniences of the plan. Besides it was not long compared to their forthcoming eternal life in heaven.

The smokers continued to meet at the fence but their smoking ritual had changed. Fred, now smoked on a Dunhill pipe, and Mr Aberdare puffed on any stubs he could find. Mr Aberdare kept his cool, he knew the inconvenience was a small price to pay. In fact he was becoming more and more humble and accepting. Limbo was doing him good.

The elder continued to share his life’s secrets and delighted in counting down the time to his arrival in Heaven. Fred would smile inwardly, knowing that the Aberdares would be in his grave for a much longer time than they had anticipated. And was proud of himself for never sharing his one big secret. It was about the sexual liaison he had with the prison chaplain. But that wasn’t all of it.

Fred thought back to his funeral. There was only one mourner. That mourner reached into the coffin and placed a pocket watch into Fred’s coat. The prison chaplain knew the stainless steel watch, a symbol of their love, would last forever.

This was a moment of truth in Fred’s life and he tried not to chuckle as he wondered.

“How long does stainless steel take to decompose?”