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December 2017 / January 2018
 
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A Message From the Department of Departures

by Daniel Ross Goodman




Hello everyone. Thank you for your attention. It’s time to get you ready for takeoff.

We here at the Department of Departures are here to make your trip as pleasant as possible. We provide you with comfortable seating, a clean, nonsmoking cabin, and a vast array of in-flight entertainment. The amenities available to you include a private viewing screen with over three thousand movies, television shows, music selections, and audiobooks for your viewing and listening pleasure, unlimited access to over one thousand cable and satellite television channels, a variety of streaming services, complementary headphones, free Wi-Fi, and an in-flight food and beverage service that offers sumptuous snacks, gourmet meals, and a superior selection of handcrafted and artisanal spirits. By this we mean real spirits, of course—though alcohol is available upon request as well.

At the Department of Departures, we strive to make your journey to the next realm an enjoyable and carefree experience. After your soul is escorted out of your body by one of our kindly crewmembers, you are ushered into one of our deluxe transport-crafts by a friendly flight attendant and treated to a new set of designer clothes which will enable you to enjoy your in-flight experience. Instructions for how to handle your new “clothes,” as well as instructions for how to use your personal seatback monitor and how to enjoy our world-class spirits, are available in the instruction manual in front of your seat; there are no safety manuals, however, because accidents in travels to the next realm do not occur. You are thus free to roam about the cabin at anytime; the fasten seatbelt-sign is always off, because there is never any turbulence on our flights. Neither will you have to worry about ever needing to put away your electronic devices, restoring your seat to the upright position, stowing your tray-table, or switching your handheld device to airplane mode.

Restrooms are located at the middle and rear of the cabin. Though you will have no need to relieve yourself, you have access to these rooms in the event that you desire a few moments of privacy during the flight. There are no overhead bins, because you have no carryon luggage—all your needs will be provided for by us. But if you would ever like anything in particular, we are here at your service; do not hesitate to ask one of our friendly fright attendants—they always know how to administer a fun scare. Our flight attendants are also always available to assist you with anything else during your flight or to answer any questions you may have about your trip. Of course, it goes without saying that this is a one-way trip. But where you’re going, you’ll never even want to look back!

We hope you have a pleasant flight. Thank you for choosing us; we know that you have lots of choices—in the manner of how you greet us when we escort you on board, that is. As far as your choice of whether to fly with us, however, we recognize that you have no choice in the matter, but we thank you nonetheless. We’re happy to be your airline. Now if you’ll just follow along with me we’ll be along our way to the next realm. Welcome aboard.



*****



This has been the pre-flight “Welcome Aboard” message that we at the Department of Departures have been using for some time now, and it was the one that we used on the most recent flight that I served on.

It began as a day unlike any other for me at Departures. I was at the hospital as part of a Departures crew tasked with fetching passengers from their bodies and escorting them to one of our transport-craft. I had already fetched forty-eight souls that day from various city homes and hospitals, and I only needed to collect one more to meet my daily quota. My colleague Azriel alerted me to a certain hospital room where he said I could find the final passenger we needed in order to fill our nearly full transport-craft, which was just about ready for takeoff.

We at Departures consider ourselves the luckiest workers in all of the realm of the beyond. Escorting passengers to the next realm is a joyous occasion for us, and we take pride in our positions as workers in the happy sector of Departures. Thus, when I walked into that hospital room, I was prepared for yet another happy departure and a delightful conclusion to yet another happy workday.

An elderly woman with half-closed eyes was lying in bed, breathing with difficulty. A young girl, probably no older than five-years-old, was sitting on a chair next to the bed, her left hand holding the elderly woman’s hand, and her right hand grasping a small blue teddy bear. “Don’t go, Nana,” she was saying, as a few tears dripped from her eyes. “Please don’t go, Nana…”

I edged toward the bed and readied myself to collect the grandma’s soul, but I heard the little girl say, “please don’t go, Nana…please…” one more time, and I hesitated.

“What’s going on, Malkiel?” Azriel asked me, watching me from just outside the room. “Take her already! What are you waiting for? The flight is almost full—we only need one more for today, then we can take off.”

“I don’t know what’s come over me, Azriel,” I said, looking down at the little girl, who was looking up at her grandmother with a tender expression on her tear-moistened face. “I can’t do it, Azriel…I can’t take her…I’ve never had this happen to me before. I didn’t think it was possible.”

“It’s not. There must be some glitch in your system. We’ll get you fixed as soon as we finish working today’s flight. Just go get her and we’ll worry later about why your system is malfunctioning.”

“I can’t, Azriel,” I said, looking at the grandmother, who was trying to say something to the little girl but was unable to. “Not while the little girl is still here.”

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

Azriel promptly materialized into the form of a hospital staff worker, becoming visible to everyone on the floor. “Ice cream! Ice cream!” he called out, pushing a small snack cart down the hallway. “Who wants ice cream?”

The little girl, still clutching her teddy bear, wandered out of the room and into the hallway. She tentatively approached Azriel’s ice cream cart and looked up at him.

“What can I get you, little girl?” he asked her, signaling to me that now was the moment for me to fetch the grandmother.

“Um…mint chocolate chip, please,” she said, wiping some of the moistness off of her cheeks.

"With sprinkles?"

"Yes, please."

"Chocolate or rainbow sprinkles?"

"Um...rainbow, please."

"Cone or cup?"

"Um...cone, please."

“Excellent choice! One mint chocolate chip with rainbow sprinkles, coming right up!”

After he handed her the ice cream cone, which she took with her right hand, he started to push the cart away, but when he noticed that I still hadn’t fetched the grandmother, he stopped.

“Oh—just a moment, little girl,” he said, just as she was about to reenter the room. “I forgot to give you some napkins.”

She walked back over to him and, as he handed her a few napkins, she placed her teddy bear on the cart so that she could receive the napkins with her left hand.

“There you are,” he said, as he gave me the signal once again. “Ice cream can be drippy, you know. You wouldn’t want to make a mess, now, would you?”

She shook her head.

“Very good…well, you enjoy your ice cream now.”

She nodded.

“And I’m sure you will,” said Azriel. “Well, lots of folks will be wanting some ice cream around here, I’m sure. So I best be on my way.”

When the girl turned away from him, Azriel dematerialized, and I quickly fetched the grandmother’s soul before the girl could reenter the room.

“Come on, Malkiel,” he said to me, eying me urgently. “We’re late for takeoff. We need to get her into the transport-craft so that we can finally get this flight underway.”

“That’s okay, Azriel,” I said, as the little girl walked back into the room. “I’ll only be a few more moments.”

“Fine. Just make it quick. We can’t delay this flight any longer than we already have.”

As Azriel escorted the grandmother to the transport-craft, I waited behind in the hospital room. When the little girl saw that the light had gone out of her grandmother’s eyes, the ice cream cone fell out of her hand, and tears began to fall from her eyes.

“Nana!” she cried, draping her arms across her grandmother’s still body. “No, Nana!...No!...No…why…why did you go…”

I wanted to say something to her; I wanted to explain what we were doing and why we had to do it; I wanted to tell her everything—to tell her why we had taken her grandmother and to tell her where we were taking her—but I knew that I was not allowed to, and so I said nothing.

After a few moments, the little girl picked herself up from the bed, wiped away a few of her tears with the napkins that she had put in her pocket, and slowly stepped out of the room.

“Blue bear?” she said to nobody in particular, looking around the hallway for the ice cream cart that had since dematerialized. “Where is blue bear?”

“Blue bear?...blue bear?” she said with a soft voice, as tears began falling from her eyes once again. “Where is blue bear?...blue bear?...please…somebody…blue bear…where is blue bear?”

I wanted to rematerialize the cart, but I couldn’t; I didn’t know what Azriel had done with it, or where he had put it.

“Blue bear? Where is blue bear?” she called out again, but everyone who heard her merely shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. “Blue bear? Where is blue bear?” she continued to cry. “Blue bear…where is blue bear?”

I wanted to stay and create a new blue bear for her, but I couldn’t; I had to fulfill my duties to the department, and was obligated to rejoin Azriel as quickly as possible so that we could finally get the flight we were responsible for off the ground. But as I exited the hospital and made my way to the nearby transport-craft awaiting takeoff, I couldn’t get the image of that little girl with the tear-streaked cheeks out of my mind. And as Azriel and I played the prerecorded Department of Departures “Welcome Aboard” message for our newest passengers, all I could hear was the voice of that little girl, still calling for her blue bear, still searching throughout the hospital in the hopes that somewhere, anywhere, her beloved blue bear might reappear.

The day after attending on that flight, I decided not to have the glitch in my system repaired, and applied for a transfer to a different department instead. I am happy to report that the authorities have accepted my request and granted me a transfer to the Department of Arrivals. I used to think that there was no better place to work than the Department of Departures. I’m not so sure anymore.


THE END


2017 Daniel Ross Goodman

Bio: Daniel Ross Goodman is a writer, rabbi, and Ph.D. candidate at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and is studying English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University. A contributor to the Books & Arts section of The Weekly Standard, he has published in numerous academic and popular journals, magazines, and newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, Tablet, and Harvard Divinity School Bulletin. His short stories have appeared in The Cortland Review, aaduna, Bewildering Stories (“The End of Days,” winner of the 2015 Spitzer Prize and Mariner Award), Calliope, Aurora Wolf, The Sea Letter, cc&d magazine, aois21 (forthcoming), Short-Story.me, Litro Magazine, and The Acentos Review.

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