Mr. Phillips had asked us all to come in early the next day, so at eight o’clock Steph, Triana and I were sat in his office to meet with him, Analise and Sian.
“How was your evening after you left us yesterday?” asked Mr. Phillips. “Any sudden recollections?”
Triana smiled and nodded quietly as Steph and I sought for the right words.
“I’m sorry if that was a little blunt,” said Mr. Phillips. “What you experienced is known as total recall and it usually takes a lot longer, to let spirits come to terms in their own time. Yours is a special case, though, hence the fast track. I hope it wasn’t too much of a shock for you.”
“So where are we?” asked Steph.
“Think of this as a post-mortal plane,” explained Mr. Phillips. “A spirit dimension where you get to figure out certain things about yourself before settling for eternity. I understand there to be many others, each catering to the particular needs of the spirits called there, but this one seems geared towards misfits, eccentrics and creative thinkers, spirits who never entirely fit into mortal society and developed their own ways of living. Some are just passing through on their way to whatever final destination they imagine they deserve, some find their idea of heaven right here. And some spirits are called to particular roles within the process, which we will get to. At the moment, suffice it to say everyone in this room falls into the latter category.”
“Is this the same town we left?” I asked.
“A version of it,” replied Mr. Phillips. “The basic structure and appearance is the same, but as you look closer you’ll notice a few differences.”
“Like this bank being here instead of our old one?” said Steph.
“That is a good example,” he answered.
“With your permission, I’d like Triana to spend the day with me,” said Analise. “Did she tell you she could sense auras?”
“She did,” said Steph. “Even though we couldn’t see them ourselves we never doubted she was telling the truth.”
“That’s good,” said Analise. “It is an ability granted to individuals destined for a particular role in the universe. I’m a little surprised to see it in someone Triana’s age, but I hear she was always a little precocious.”
Triana shrugged. “I’ve always seen things,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone else see them for a change.”
“Everything on this plane is geared towards helping spirits find their way,” said Sian. “There are shops, companies, clubs and organisations all over for them to become a part of, according to their particular needs. The only things there aren’t is schools and churches, churches because organised religion is for the living and schools…”
“Let’s just say children don’t usually come to this particular plane,” said Analise. “That’s why I asked about Triana’s school uniform, it’s not something I expected to see here.”
“The spirits that run these organisations come together in groups of three,” continued Mr. Phillips, “a creator-overseer, a maintainer and a deliverer. I don’t know how religious you are, but it’s a common pattern throughout mythology, faith and philosophy. I am the overseer of this establishment, Sian here is our maintainer and Analise the deliverer. None of us set out to take these roles, we were guided into them just like you were all guided here.
Here at Charon Bank our main purpose is to help other spirits set up the things they need. You’ll find that finance is a bit of an abstract concept here, with some rather unusual accounts. You won’t find any Wall Street wolves, but you might notice strange movements of money towards people who go on to set up strange enterprises which might not have come to be in a regular economy. Basically our job is to let that happen.”
“I like it already,” I said. “What kind of accounts?”
Mr. Phillips talked us through accounts from across the town, effectively giving us a guided tour.
Ketherton, the town where we lived, was a former mill town whose industry had long ago collapsed, leaving an economy of low level regional offices and warehouses filled with cheap imported goods. Ketherton Athletic, the town’s football club, had nestled in the lower leagues for as long as I could remember but inspired a passionate following from the town’s residents that mostly manifested in bouts of violence and vandalism following home defeats. It was not a glamorous place to call home and had a rough reputation in the county, but it was no worse than similar level towns found up and down the UK and offered extremely good value in terms of property prices. We had a lovely home with a big garden in one of the town’s better neighbourhoods, so we never felt the need to move elsewhere.
Death seemed to have improved our hometown, as Ketherton in the post-mortal plane showed signs of culture and creativity that had been mostly frustrated beforehand. Over by the canal was an area of former mill buildings that had housed run down warehouse space on the mortal plane, but here seemed to have grown into a thriving arts and crafts collective maintained by one of the trinities Mr. Phillips had alluded to. Elsewhere were bohemian coffee shops, music venues, galleries, clothes and curio shops, the dream businesses of people the world over in a position to put vision before profit. Out in the countryside was Morior Studios, a film location venue set around the grounds of a country house.
In amongst all this exoticness the more mundane, everyday concerns remained; supermarkets, service industries and, weirdly, insurance companies.
“If we’re all dead, why do we need insurance?” I asked. “What are people claiming for?”
“It’s mostly about maintaining familiarity, life as normal,” said Mr. Phillips. “There are spirits who worked in those kind of office environments all their lives and aren’t really comfortable anywhere else. For others it’s an impetus to look for something new. A lot of them don’t even know they’re dead – that thing I mentioned earlier about total recall? For some it takes years.”
“That explains the normal office jobs,” said Steph, “but you mentioned that this plane was for misfits and eccentrics.”
“What you’re not seeing is the underbelly,” said Mr. Phillips. “All of these spirits will have their own quirks, things they are dealing with, and not all of them are comfortable in plain sight. Most of the organisations you see are fronts for other things. Nothing really bad – violent criminals and abusers don’t come to this plane – but weird stuff they might be used to hiding about themselves from their mortal lives. Take this place, for example.”
Mr Phillips pulled out the file for Morior Studios.
“Morior is run by a special effects expert who made his name in independent horror movies from around the 1960s. They do have visiting production companies that rent their facilities – don’t ask me where they come from – but the part of the business they don’t advertise is a club where people can go to experience being killed in spectacular ways. It’s supposed to be a big secret, but that’s more to reassure the members that it’s safe to reveal their dark fantasies.”
“So what we’re talking about is a bunch of fetish clubs?” I asked.
“That’s the crude way of looking at it,” said Mr. Phillips. “It’s more about obsession than sex, you’re as likely to find an underground ring of board game enthusiasts as you are BDSM freaks. But it has always been my experience that the more mundane and boring a town is on the surface the more kinkiness you’ll find underground. People have ways of making their own entertainment.”
That figured, actually. Though Steph and I had never really explored Ketherton After Dark – we’d been too busy looking after David/Triana – we had heard rumours about what folk got up to behind closed doors. A couple of our colleagues were known furries, we often wondered what they looked like in costume.
“I guess that’s why there aren’t children here, then,” said Steph. “So what’s Triana doing here, should we be worried about her? I hope she’s not here to feed some weirdo’s sick obsession.”
“No, it’s definitely not like that,” said Mr. Phillips. “Triana is not a normal child, she’s been called here for a very specific purpose which no-one else can fill. Don’t ask me who by – remember what I said about the universe and strange coincidences. The best reason I can think of for her being here as the only child is to represent innocence, a way to help people reconnect with their own inner child before passing on. She won’t age physically – no-one does here – but she will continue to learn and develop as a person. As she does we will help you guide her, look out for her and keep her away from things she’s not ready for. In any case, she’s still coming to terms with her powers but let’s just say she’ll have no problem defending herself if the need ever arises. You just need to keep being there for her like you always have been.”
“I see,” said Steph uneasily.
We met Triana again at lunchtime, so we could all go together to a nearby park. Analise commented on what a keen student she had been, we could only speculate on what she’d been learning.
“Do you understand things a little more now?” asked Triana.
“I little,” I said. “I must say, you’re really taking all this in stride.”
“It fits with everything I studied,” said Triana. “Little pockets of cosmic energy in repeating patterns, given energy by the variations of human inventiveness. And now I can see auras, so I’ve some idea what’s driving people. It’s quite beautiful, when you see it all together.”
“Is that what Analise has been teaching you, how to read auras?”
“Amongst other things. We looked at the people coming into the bank and discussed what we could tell about them, but she also told me about the different places around this plane and how we can help the spirits find their way. It’s an awesome job.”
The path went through an avenue of trees, opening out onto a small lake ringed by benches. On the bench just ahead sat a man, all alone, looking out across the water.
“Mum, Dad, wait here,” said Triana. “There’s something I need to do.”
Before we could stop her Triana strode off towards the bench and sat down beside the man. I went to chase after her, but was stopped by a hand on my shoulder with finely manicured fingernails.
“Just wait,” said Analise. “You need to let her do this.”
Analise hadn’t been there a second ago, but was now watching Triana talk to the man on the bench like a sports coach watching from the dugout. She put her finger to her lips and motioned for us to watch.
We couldn’t hear what was being said, but we saw Triana initiate the conversation and the man do something of a double take as he saw the smiling schoolgirl that had turned up to speak with him. They chatted a little, then he began to tell his story as she listened carefully, interjecting with the odd question to control the pace of the conversation. The man eventually reached the end of his tale with visible exhaustion. Triana said something to him and he solemnly nodded his head. She then moved across the bench to give him a hug, as she did so his image faded suddenly like a slide being removed from a projector. One moment he was there, then he wasn’t there, leaving Triana sat alone on the bench playfully kicking her legs. She turned and waved at us. Analise waved back as Steph and I stood in shocked silence, wondering what the hell we had just witnessed.