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As a committed atheist, I was having a lot of trouble adjusting to the afterlife.
I had just spent six months rolling my eyes at the people who told me that, while it was a tragedy that I was dying at 28, at least I was going to a better place. And now, here I was.
Well, that's not exactly true. I wasn't really in a better place - I was at my church, watching my own funeral.
"Isn't this a bit of a cliché?" I asked.
That got a chuckle from one of the five hottest women I'd ever seen.
"Actually, yeah, it is," she said from her seat on one of the church's windowsills. "But we've discovered that it is actually a good place to start a new godling's orientation. There's nothing that gets you ready for your new life faster than watching your friends and loved ones mourn the old one."
I glanced at the ceremony, which I was not enjoying at all. You think "Wow, it's so cool to see my own funeral", but that only lasts a few seconds. Then you realize you are going to be watching a lot of suffering from a lot of people you care about.
Besides, the minister was giving a terrible eulogy, so I went back to my conversation with Kaitlyn.
"About this new job," I said, leaning against the wall as an ex-girlfriend sniffled a few feet away. "I spent my entire life loudly not believing in gods, and now you tell me I am one?"
She shook her head with a mischievous smile that came as much from her eyes than from her mouth.
"You are not a god, darling. Not yet. If you behave yourself for the next few weeks, you will become a god's apprentice - my apprentice, as a matter of fact - but that still only makes you a godling. You don't get the actual title until I retire and you replace me."
I glanced the length of her body, which wasn't hard, since she was curled onto the windowsill with her legs taking up most of the space. She hadn't exactly dressed up for my funeral - she was wearing a low-cut blouse and jeans that must have been applied with an airbrush - but at least it was all black.
She looked exactly like Jessica Alba, if Jessica had happened to be a green-eyed redhead.
"I've never been good at judging ages, especially when it comes to dead people, but you don't exactly look ready for Social Security, so how much of a career am I going to get after you're gone? Is this going to be like Prince Charles, who's going to be 80 before he gets to be king?"
That got me what I was quickly recognizing as her bratty grin. If she did that many more times, I might fall over. Behind me, I heard my best friend talking about all the good things I had done in my life, but I was too busy to listen.
"You are so sweet," she said, suddenly sounding like an Irish Spring commercial. "How old do you think I am?"
Oops. Better guess low.
"I'm not sure - 25, maybe?"
"Close. I'll be 163 in July."
I started to say something stupid, but caught myself. Now that I thought about it, there wasn't any reason for gods to age.
Then I said something stupid anyway.
"You'll have to excuse me - I don't remember jeans like those in Gone With The Wind, and I'm pretty sure I would have remembered."
The smile again. I had gotten that one on purpose, which I suspected she knew.
"They do let us have new clothes, sweetheart. It wouldn't be fair if I had to party in a hoop skirt while the new apprentices got to dress like Posh Spice. They already have the advantage of being fresh meat, so I at least deserve some hot clothes."
In all the time I had been busy not believing in gods, I had certainly never believed of one that talked about "fresh meat" on the party scene.
"You keep talking about the parties - actually, the first thing you said to me was that I was going to love the nightlife. Do we actually do anything, or is this some kind of cosmic Studio 54 for the hot dead?"
She looked vaguely serious - the first time I had seen that.
"Babe, I'm suddenly the Goddess of the Harvest for a planet full of people who are doing everything they can to destroy the climate. I've been an apprentice since 1870, working for the greatest man I've ever met. He loved his work, but global warming finally drove him though the door. So now it is in my lap, and I'm not ready, even after almost 140 years of preparation.
"So, trust me, the partying and relaxation is going to be very important for both of us, because we've got a shitty job ahead."
There wasn't a hint of a smile now.
Behind me, my father was speaking, and I glanced back over my shoulder, but one look at his face made me turn back away.
"So when one god retires, the apprentice moves up?"
"Right, although there's a transition period of about a year. That gives the new god time to pick their own apprentice."
"That makes ... wait, you picked me? How does that work - do you have some kind of database of the terminally ill?"
Kaitlyn closed her eyes briefly. When she looked at me again, I didn't really need to hear her words.
"No, Michael. I picked you, and the cancer was arranged. I had to kill you to get you as an apprentice, just like Vyeslav had to kill me. Someday, you'll have to do the same thing. It's by far the worst part of this job.
"Once you understand how much you can do for humanity in this life, you may forgive me."
I forced myself to turn around. I saw the terrible grief on the faces of my parents, and while I couldn't see my fiancé's face, I could see her body shaking with sobs. Other people that I loved were trying to comfort them, without much success.
I felt Kaitlyn's hand on my shoulder, and I had to force myself not to shrug it off.
"If it helps, I'm sorry."
There was a small part of my brain telling me that she had a point, but all I could see was the devastation she had wrought on what had been my life.
"It doesn't. You say I may someday forgive you."
"I have to stop hating you first."
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