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Afterlife

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"Afterlife" is a short story originally published in the "summer reading" issue (#56) of Tin House magazine in June of 2013. It was also published in the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

Plot

William Andrews, an investment banker, dies of Colon Cancer on September 23, 2012, leaving behind his wife Lynn and 3 kids. In the months prior to his death, he has secretly performed research on the topic of the afterlife. What he finds however is nothing like he expected.

Upon dying, he finds himself in a hallway that ends at the door titled ISAAC HARRIS MANAGER. In the hall he sees a bulletin board on the wall with photographs tacked to it. Those photographs were taken in 1956, the year of this birth. In one of them, depicting a company picnic, he recognizes several familiar faces from his life among the people, including his late college classmate Bobby Tisdale and President Reagan. 

Once Andrews enters the office, which turns out to be from 1911, he is greeted by Mr.  Harris. Here the truth is revealed; there are only 2 options in afterlife for everybody, represented by two doors leading out of the office. Andrews can either relive the exact same life he just had, but without any memories about the previous loop and thus unable to prevent some of the things he regretted (like accidently cutting the top of his brothers’ little finger, shoplifting at age 17 and not getting the colonoscopy that could have prevented his death), or choose to disappear into nothing for good. According to Harris, this is the 15th time Andrews has been here.

Harris himself clearly hates his job of greeting every deceased and presenting the choice, stating it’s repetitive and boring. He has been assigned to this position as a punishment for the fact that, in his Earthly life, he caused the deaths of 146 employees of his business, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory;  in order to prevent his employees from stealing, he always kept the doors locked and thus nobody could get out of the building when the place caught fire one day.

After evaluating his options, Andrews chooses to relive his life, hoping that if he focuses hard enough he can recall just enough of his experience to prevent at least 1 of the mistakes he made. The story ends with Andrews' birth in 1956.

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