by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
I have only been dead for a week and already I've been summoned to see the Beast. Woodhouse shakes his head in that despairing way of his.
"I've been here for two years and he's not asked to see me once", he says, in his best underdog voice. Woodhouse is such a likeable fellow that no one can figure out why he hasn't been moved up a long time ago, let alone why he was sent to a hub as low as Hub 12 in the first instance. We can't ask him what he did to be brought here, of course - it is not the done thing. In prison, everyone may be innocent, but here we all know better. Nevertheless, in Woodhouse's case one cannot help but think that he might be an anomaly. Even the Beast himself is perplexed by the chap's presence, as I am about to find out.
"Would you like to earn some karma credits?" he thunders at me. "I need someone to visit the human world for me and do some detective work. You were an MI5 agent I believe?" - I nod - "That would make you the most suitable of my souls for this task. I need you to find out what Woodhouse's story is."
"Why not ask Woodhouse himself?"
"Ask a human to tell its own story? Don't make me laugh", he grunts, in no danger of cracking even the faintest of smiles.
"In all the time Woodhouse has been here," he continues, "I have received no instruction regarding his situation. I do not even have an admittance record for him, which is most peculiar. I can't remember signing him in, and neither can any of my Underbeasts. I even asked around the other Hubs, in case he had been mis-delivered, but they have no record of him there, either. When I was moving Manston up to Hub 13 for good behaviour, he happened to mention Woodhouse; if he hadn't I would still be unaware of his existence."
I waddle around the human world in the ungainly body that has been provided for me as I try to put together the pieces of the Woodhouse puzzle. It would appear no one knows for sure that he is dead - he is in fact on the Missing Persons list. One morning, he went to work as usual, had an unremarkable day at the office, and then simply failed to return home. This worries me, I must admit. As much as I like the fellow, I do not believe him to be an overly industrious chap; had he decided to walk out on his entire life, I am sure he wouldn't have failed to notice that it presented him with a fine opportunity to miss a day's work. I suspect Woodhouse may have met with foul play.
My next step is to find the people that would have known as much as there is to know about Woodhouse: the regulars at his local pub. As I head for the Pig and Whistle, it occurs to me that I haven't had a pint since before I died; I wonder whether I will be able to taste beer using this body. Upon entering the pub and seeing the selection of mass-produced beers on offer, I decide that it doesn't make any difference.
It doesn't take me long to establish that Woodhouse went missing two years ago, leaving behind a wife and a greyhound he doted on. The landlord and the three men propping up the bar proceed to tell me various endearing stories that feature a tipsy Woodhouse and I know for sure that he must have been sent to Hub 12 by mistake - I would have placed him in a much higher Hub, and would even go so far as to suggest that he might be suitable for the Other Place.
"'Twas the Shimmy on Eyres Street that got young Woodhouse".
The pronouncement comes from an old man sitting in the far corner of the pub. The landlord waves at him and informs me in a whisper that the old codger isn't currently in possession of all his marbles. Now, one does not work in Her Majesty's Secret Service for 20 years without developing some instincts about old codgers and their marbles, so I set off to investigate. I don't think the Underbeast that wired me into this body did a very good job: I can feel the beer I drank pooling inside my left ankle. This is probably for the best, otherwise I might find that I have to relieve the bladder of a body that isn't mine and, well, that simply doesn't bear thinking about.
I wander up and down Eyres Street for half an hour failing to spot anything out of the ordinary when suddenly I see what looks like a small, transparent cloud floating at chest height. I approach it and stick my hand in to try and figure out what it is - and find myself back in Hub 12, still wearing the now beer-sodden body I had borrowed. It is now clear what happened to Woodhouse, and I tell the Beast of my findings.
The Beast agrees with my deductions, and orders an Underbeast to locate Woodhouse's body and fit him back into it. Thankfully for Woodhouse it is a different Underbeast from the one that fitted me into my borrowed body. The Beast then summons Woodhouse and informs him that he is going to be sent back to the human world as he is not actually dead.
"Oh thank God", Woodhouse says, and bursts into tears.
"We do all the hard work, and who gets the thanks?" mutters the Beast under his breath, handing me a karma credit slip as he walks away.
5 days ago