Chapter 1 - What’s Your Number?

Janie stood in the Observation Room, face-to-face with her sister who had never looked more miserable in all her life and who had her hands stretched out before her. 

“When someone asks you if you’re a god,” Beth began, dropping her hands to her sides. 

“You. Say. Yes.” Janie finished, and then she remembered. She turned to face the large window, to face her own dead body in the chamber beyond. 

She remembered the Platter — a sort of sideways guillotine — around her neck. She remembered smiling at Beth. She remembered Beth asking, “Are you a god?” 

“No,” Janie had answered. 

“Then,” began Beth as she did her best imitation of Gozer, “die!” she proclaimed, sweeping her clutched hands from behind her to face Janie, releasing the Dead Man’s Switch as she did so. 

The Platter shut fast and tight and clean so Janie’s head stayed perfectly still, laughter in her eyes as she smiled at Beth for the last time. Janie’s body remained upright, belted to the chair. Blood soaked her hospital dressing gown and Janie looked down at herself self-consciously, she was spotless and sighed in relief. 

It was strange, Janie realized, as she ran her hands over her clothes, how she could feel herself but how also not. She reached up to her dark brown hair, recently trimmed to maintain her preferred pixie look. She remembered being due for a cut, but not getting one. 

She also did not remember actually buying the sweater she now wore; pale blue and fuzzy like some sort of cloud with a white cotton peter pan collar. She remembered thinking about buying it, but she also remembered leaving the store without it. Her skinny jeans and ruby red flats were perennial favorites, but this sweater — which she had eyed for impressing Taylor — made her wonder. 

Janie’s earthbound spirit stood next to her sister looking at Janie’s dead form. Janie knew she was dead, and made a fair guess that Beth couldn’t see her. She looked at her sister and tried to nudge her shoulder, just a little; but, her hand went right through. Beth took a deep and dissatisfied breath, went to the call box, and flipped the switch. The curtain closed on the viewing window. 

Janie had wanted to watch the cleaning crew take care of her remains, but — when Beth left the Observation Room — the ghost soon realized she was bound to stay within 10 feet of her sister. As annoying as that was though, it was no more annoying than the fact that no one could see her anyway. 

She thought about the idea of ghosts or earthbound spirits and how they were supposed to have unfinished business. If no one could see her and she couldn’t get very far from her sister, how was she supposed to finish anything? 

Beth handed off the Dead Man’s Switch to Liam for the next family that would need it. 

“You good?” he asked. 

“Useless,” Beth started, “completely useless. Whoever suckered her into revving gave her the works.” 

“No name?” 

“Just that stupid grin that’s been making the rounds lately, and I held out for the last possible second.” 

“I had my eye on the clock, too.” Liam was always Janie’s favorite in the research department, between him and Beth there was no way she could have failed her Sallies. 

Her Sallies! Janie had just gotten certified, just in time for her 16th birthday, and now she was dead. That she could remember, but not what came between certification and certain death. How much of her life was she missing? 

“Maybe the new guy will help sort it all out,” Liam offered, running a nervous hand through his perpetually rumpled hair that had only recently started to gray and match his eyes. 

“Thing. The new thing, you mean,” Beth answered as she pulled the elastic from her light brown ponytail to shake out her hair only to put it back in a ponytail, “and stop playing with your hair when you’re nervous. It makes me want to claw my eyes out.” 

“Look, his coming here is a fact of life. You might not like it -” 

“I hate it.” 

“You might not like it, but you are constitutionally obligated to respect his civil rights.” 

Things can’t have rights.” 

“They said that about corporations.” 

“And they would have kept on saying it if we were still following the orders of some typo that got backed by enough money to — ” Beth stopped herself short, “You know what, Liam? We’re not fighting about this because, as much as I am a law-abiding citizen, you know I’m right.” 

“You going to The Sword tonight?” 

“Meeting Taylor. You?” 

“No,” Liam said, “I’ve got to take some of this work home with me.” 

They made their goodbyes with the requisite condolences and graceful-ish acceptance. Janie followed Beth down the road away from the Sally Forth Institute to the bar where the Field-hands gather, both sisters were generally annoyed with their view of things. 

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The Sword opened shortly after the Great Revving of the early ‘20s. It was amazing how many idiots there were then who decided that swords (katana swords especially) were the weapon of choice against the undead, but then didn’t properly clean their weapons between killings and then happened to accidentally nick themselves. 

Kyle’s father had started to collect the swords of the idiots who accidentally revved themselves, and — after cleaning them properly — fixed them permanently to the ceiling of his bar, now Kyle’s. Seeing the ceiling hidden by so many steel mistakes usually put a smile on Beth’s face, but she had other things on her mind. 

Janie was always impressed with the existence of so much stupid that not only was the ceiling of the bar no longer visible, but most of the swords — hung parallel to the ground — had more swords similarly hung from them. It was enough to distract her from her no-longer-being-alive annoyance as she waited with her sister for Taylor, and Taylor’s arrival did not disappoint. 

Taylor wore her hair in long loose curls, dark and coarse. She smiled politely at a man holding the door for her. 

“Here,” Janie heard the man say, “let me get that for you since you’re carrying all seven seasons of Buffy for some reason.” 

“Shhh,” Taylor whispered back, “you’ll spoil my surprise.” 

Janie grinned ear-to-ear seeing Taylor carrying that treasure to her, but then she remembered. Taylor couldn’t possibly be bringing her their favorite binge show because Taylor couldn’t possibly see Janie. Did Taylor even know what had happened? Did Taylor know Janie was dead? 

“Alright,” Taylor began when she reached Beth’s table, her eyes were pink and puffy and she was sniffling a little like she had just finished a powerful bout of crying, “you need to execute your sister on your own terms? Coolfinewhatever, but I have terms of my own for executing Buffy and I need you for this.” 

“Don’t cross the streams,” Janie warned. 

“No,” Beth said. 

“Why not?” Taylor asked. 

“It would be bad,” Janie said. 

“I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing,” mumbled the man who had held the door for Taylor and had perched himself at the end of the bar closest to their table. 

“Janie wouldn’t want you to destroy Buffy in her memory. It’s a stupid idea and self-serving.” Beth said. 

Janie was done with Taylor and Beth debating the very real and heartbreaking “virtues” of destroying all seven seasons of Buffy in her name. This guy had reacted to something she said. She went over to him. 

“What about the twinkie?” she asked. 

The man glanced at her sideways and took a deep breath. He shut his eyes tight as he let out the breath again as though he had done something to annoy himself. 

“What about the twinkie?” Janie asked again. 

The man tried his hardest to hold perfectly still. He took a deep drink of his water and stared straight ahead at his disjointed reflection in the mirror made of swords behind the bar. 

“Don’t be a jerk.” Janie said. 

The man furrowed his eyebrows and inclined his head a little in Janie’s direction. He bit his lip and spoke very quietly to her, holding his glass in front of his mouth, “Venkman to the guy in the blue hard hat as he’s about to shut off the power to the containment system, right?” 

Janie gave him a confused look. 

“Do you know,” the man began, “that you’re dead?” 

Janie nodded. 

“Do you know you’re quoting Ghostbusters?” 

Janie thought about it for a second, trying to remember everything she had said but that no one had heard since she died. Her eyes grew wide. 

“Dammit,” the man said to himself, then he asked Janie, “Who or what are you stuck to?” 

Janie was smiling ear-to-ear again as she ran to her sister and started jumping up and down to signal that she was stuck to Beth. Beth saw the man looking at her and immediately signaled Taylor to stop going on about how meaningful Buffy was to her development as a human being. 

“Can I help you with something, sir?” Beth snapped at him. 

“Hi, yeah,” the man started, “I’m David.” He got up and approached their table.

“Well,” Beth prompted, very much not in the mood to talk to strangers. 

“Right, yeah, I should just jump into it.” He rubbed the cleft in his chin. “Did you recently lose someone close to you with super-short, dark hair. She may have been wearing a blue sweater at the time.” Taylor gasped, 

“That’s my girl! That’s our Janie!” 

“Taylor!” Beth snapped, “This is why you shouldn’t pass your Sallies. Besides,” she turned back to David, “she was wearing a hospital gown when she died. Standard protocol for revving.” 

“Total protonic reversal,” Janie said. 

“I’m so sorry,” he said to Janie. 

“Oh,” Beth said, “is she supposed to be standing next to me?” 

“And quoting Ghostbusters.” 

“Really?” 

“That would be so like Janie,” said Taylor, smiling and tearing up. 

“Actually, she’s sort of stuck quoting it,” David explained, “she must have been thinking about the movie when she died.” 

“Gozer the Gozerian,” Janie said pointing at her sister. 

“Gozer the Gozerian?” David asked. 

“Who are you?” Beth asked, every muscle in her body tense. 

“David,” he answered seeing he was headed for trouble, “I know this all seems really weird and awful to be hearing from someone you’ve never met— ” 

“Let’s try an easier question, David. What are you?” At the sound of Beth’s voice asking the question, every patron in The Sword shut their mouths and watched. David assumed the position, getting on his knees with his hands clasped behind his head, and closed his eyes. 

“I’m the Sucker who starts work tomorrow at the Sally Forth Institute,” he blurted as quickly and clearly as he could. 

“Of course you are,” Beth said. “What year did you start and what’s your number?” 

“1986. 739.” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. 

“That comes to about a body a month wouldn’t you say?” Beth went and stood in front of him. 

“What did you do, Ray?” Janie said. 

David thought about his situation. This was not good. This was really very terribly not good.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 - You’re Dead