Memoir of an Archivist After Death [Fiction, Part I]

Remember when I said I was writing something for an archival short story contest? Well – unsurprisingly – I didn’t finish it. Since it is 2/3 of the way done however, I’m going to share it here in three parts. And I am absolutely going to write part three. Promise.

Memoir of an Archivist After Death
by Stephanie @ PlayfullyTacky

Have you seen Beetlejuice? You know, that late-80s comedic masterpiece from Tim Burton back before he became just a caricature of himself? A modern classic, for sure. I absolutely loved that movie as a kid. I can remember many a Saturday morning pushing that tape into the VHS player and settling in with a bowl of corn flakes. Always corn flakes, my mom never bought the fun cereal.

One of my favorite scenes was when the distressed Maitlands ventured into the Hades branch of their local DHS to meet with their caseworker. How exactly did the deceased end up working in this underworld office? Could I dye my hair as pink as the receptionist? And most importantly, where did all that paperwork come from and why did no one care that it wasn’t organized in nice piles? How would they ever find what they needed?

Is that weird? Oh my God, was I a weirdo? [Hang on for a minute while I reevaluate my entire existence.] Okay, anyway . . . I like to think that my love of that movie helped land me where I am today. Although I’m not entirely sure that is a good thing so helped might not be the right word. Where exactly am I, you ask? Well, I’m in the real-life version of that underworld DHS. And I’m in charge of all that paper.

They don’t prepare you for this in library school.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about a typical day here in my post-existence [context, people!]: The alarm goes off at 6am. No, not even the dead get to sleep in. There isn’t any need to shower, exercise, or eat, but a lot of us go through the motions anyway. Personally, I like to stare at a cream cheese bagel and swirl around a cup of coffee before I leave my building. I just can’t give up that coffee. It used to be the thing that made me feel like a living, breathing human every morning. Although I can’t say it does that much for me anymore, I keep up the habit all the same. Supposedly we in-betweeners can still eat the food, but it doesn’t taste quite the same and I prefer to stick with my memories.

My commute is usually uneventful – we don’t have the kind of traffic they do in Hell – and I arrive at work around 8am to be greeted by a way-too-chipper morning person. Her name is Debbie, she works the front desk, and I’m pretty sure she was murdered by her former coworkers. No one can deal with this level of pep in the morning. After escaping from Debbie, I spend the next eight hours alone in the basement sorting through death records, haunting assignments, closed reincarnation requests, and TPS reports (usually without their cover pages).

On a particularly interesting day, I might discover an old exorcism-avoidance training manual or maybe spend an hour lost in the files of Queen Victoria, Jim Morrison, and Tutankhamen. Last week I tackled the records from one of the European plague pandemics. For official records these are pretty scant; Lord knows the orientation lines had to be longs during those years. Literally, Lord knows. The higher-ups want me to build a searchable database and try to fill in the missing information for these and other mass-mortality records, but won’t even give me an intern to help with that one. Not gonna’ happen.

Technically I should only be dealing with the closed records, i.e. those pertaining to people who have moved on to their final destination (informally labeled 9L, for nine lives). It is a misnomer really, as not everybody actually gets nine. The label comes from an old system leftover from the administration of Lytton during his short term as Death in the seventeenth century. He tried to overhaul the records retention plan and really mucked things up with extraneous ledgers and processes that did nothing for standardization and increased the backlog ten-fold. I’m still trying to right things from that misadventure.

But let’s stay away from politics. As I said, I should only be dealing with closed records. However, at least once a week I get a call from some random case-worker trying to determine proper placement for a person mistakenly nine-lived. I’m constantly reminding them not to send me active files. I’m hoping it will sink-in sometime in the next century or so. An ambitious project, I know.

Drop-everything-and-work-on-this-right-now projects aside, this is pretty much what I do every single day. Or at least, what I was doing before everything changed.

To be continued.
Check back on November 20 for part two.

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