The bright light started to fade and Mike blinked his eyes for the first time. A middle-aged man dressed in business casual sat across the desk from him. The rest of the room was empty except for a plastic plant in the corner.

“Welcome to Haven! Happy birthday, nice to meet you, happy first day on the job, etc,” the man said. “I’m Ralph. I’ll be your supervisor.”

Ralph stretched out his hand and smiled. Mike blinked again and then remembered he should probably shake his new boss’s hand.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Mike. Still a little slow waking up and all.”

“Of course, of course. It’s to be expected. Hope you had nice dreams, good memories?”

Images of two loving parents, play dates, nature hikes and big city explorations flashed through Mike’s head. He knew none of them were real, but they were pleasant.

“Yeah, I…” Mike paused. He felt a different memory below the surface, something strange and out of place, but he couldn’t quite grasp it. Instead, he started reviewing the office training. Log into the system, solve support tickets, and answer the phone.

“I’m ready to get started I suppose,” Mike did his best to smile.

“Great! I know you’re technically all ready to get plugged in and hop into the queue, but let me show you around first. Introduce you to everyone here. I gotta tell you, I’m super excited for you to be here. We’ve been struggling to keep up for years and could really use another set of hands. Let’s go!”

Mike followed Ralph out of the room and did his best to keep up with a flurry of faces and names as they walked around the office area. There were several cubicles, a small man named John, a water cooler off the side with a little break area to chat, Beatrice, Ralph’s office if Mike ever has a question, restrooms down the hall, meditation room, a name Mike didn’t quite catch, and finally his own little spot.

His cubicle was plain. Desktop computer, monitor, black keyboard and mouse, giant desk phone, and tiny headset. Someone had been kind enough to put a kitten calendar up on the right cubicle wall. This month two baby calicos were rolling around in a basket.

“Well, let’s get you plugged in,” Ralph said. He leaned over and turned on the computer. Several seconds passed before HAVENSOFT 26.04 appeared on the screen. “Alright, here’s your login credentials.”

Ralph passed Mike a sticky note. Username: Mike008. Password: UiG978Afoi!ji.

“You can change the password once you log in. Recommended actually. Anyway, I’ll leave you to it.”

Alone for the first time Mike sat down and stared at his computer. This was his life now. His entire existence. He hoped it wasn’t as boring as it appeared. New Password: FreshBeginning!

The left side of the screen was the phone queue with a giant “ENTER” ready to be clicked. The right side had the searchable database.

Headset on, he clicked ENTER.

A click and he was with his first caller.

“Welcome to Haven. This is Mike. How can I help you?”

“I don’t understand why I haven’t gotten there!” a male voice shouted back. “I can’t even get an estimate of arrival from any of the agents here. This service is completely ridiculous. It’s been days! What kind of organization are you chucklef***s running here?!”

The tirade paused.

“Wait, did you say Haven or heaven?”

“Haven, sir,” Mike replied.

“I wanted to talk to someone in heaven. Should have f****** expected this s. Of course, the Haven reps here can’t give me a real number. Fine, fine, FINE. Can you tell me when I’ll be getting out of this G**d*** purgatory?”

“Can you please tell me your name and date of death please?”

“Eric Stephens. January 2, 2019.”

“Says here you’re Catholic, but you haven’t been to Mass in 32 years. I expect that’s the reason for your hold-up in the queue.”

“That’s b***s***. I saw a priest on my death bed! He said it would be fine!”

“Says he was actually Episcopal. Still helps, but you have to wait your turn to be processed. The Catholic systems are always overloaded.”

“That rat b******! Okay then,” Eric sighed. “How long do I got?”

“You have 16-24 weeks until you’re finished processing and can move to heaven. I assume you still want Catholic heaven. I can lock you in for that now.”

“F****** A I want Catholic heaven! I didn’t carry all that guilt for nothin’. And I can’t believe I’m going to have to spend that long in purgatory! This is ridiculous! I want to speak to your manager!”

“I’ll confirm your selection. Do you have any other questions I can answer?” Mike decided to stick to the script.

“No! I want to talk to—“

Mike hung up. Nothing to do if there weren’t any more questions to answer. Maybe he should have stayed on the line longer, but he could claim ignorance first day. Listening to screaming was part of the job but there were limits.

The next caller was a lovely old grandma who had done ritual goat sacrifices in her youth and gone to a nice, elderly Baptist church for the past 20 years. Normally the system would default to the latest After Life input, but apparently, she had dealt with a heck of a lot of goats back in the day and still had fond memories of the Satanists.

“They were nice people overall, you know?” the grandma said. “Sure there were a couple bad apples here and there, but that was because of the drugs. They weren’t evil. Except for Tommy. We kicked him out.”

“That’s fine. The issue is if you would prefer to go to Cult Satanist hell or Baptist heaven?”

“What’s the difference?” she laughed.

Mike gave a chuckle himself. “Well, Cult Satanist hell is a mix of party scene and quiet nature. Not highly populated since it’s separated from Theistic and Modern Satanism which ban animal sacrifice.”

“I thought they weren’t supposed to be fun-killers,” she interjected.

Mike let it go. “Baptist heaven is a pretty typical heaven. Streets of gold. Divine bliss. Eternal hymns. Old family members assuming they at least approximately line up with your denomination.”

“I was worried about that. Send me to hell. I don’t want to ever see my mother again. I assume she’s there?”

“I’m sorry. Another’s eternal resting point is a confidentiality issue unless they’ve left explicit instructions to commune with you.”

“Doesn’t matter. No way she’d be someplace with a bit of fun to it. Hell it is!”

“Yes, ma’am. Expect 24 hours for processing.”

Mike finished filling out the forms for her on his computer.

An email popped up.

Hey Mike! wanted to share the company overview video wit you. Been so long I cant remember how much is covered in the trainin implement u got. Enjoy! HavenOverviewCOMPLETEUPDATEDRevised.vid



Mike opened the vid file.

A little, animated woman popped up in a classroom with chippy elevator music playing.

“Since, the population boom of the 60s, it wasn’t feasible to maintain separate centers for each afterlife. Not to mention the proliferation of new denominations and specific destination alterations. There are over 6,000 variations of heaven alone and more coming into existence every year.”

The animation illustrated the rapid proliferation of paperwork.

“Haven handles all incoming soul management and distribution for North America and a variety of other regions based on management deals with the other large-scale afterlife care providers. ”

A tiny, while flame popped up in the woman’s hands.

“Souls are Haven’s specialty. Our call centers are designed for direct conversations with the desires of the deceased who are having difficulties on their post-mortal journey and are currently in purgatory (or similar) centers.”

An incredibly completed chart appears mapping different afterlife processes.

“A karmic specialist from Nirvena wouldn’t know what to do with a screaming American just like Haven managers hope every day they don’t hear the word ‘samsara.’ Kidding! Our team is prepared for any situation. Please enjoy your time at Haven!”

Thank you for your service flashed in big letters and then the video ended.

Mike wasn’t sure why Ralph sent him the video since it wasn’t actually that informative.

He kept plugging away as he answered the phone and handled support tickets in the queue. No one said beliefs and religion were simple, but it was astounding how complicated it could all be. A theist Christian and deist Christian only had a difference of three letters on the forms but had radically different expectations for their destination. Typos, miscommunications, and both human and non-human error created a truly infinite amount of administrative work.

Mike felt a tap on his shoulder. He took off his headset as he turned around.

“Oh, is some-“
“You can take breaks, you know. We’re angels. Not machines,” said a tall woman in white jeans and a black hoodie. “Besides, isn’t it your first day here? Oh, I’m June by the way. Nice to meet you!”

Mike shook her outstretched hand. “I’m Mike. Nice to meet you too!”

“Want to get something from the vending machines? My treat.”

Mike wasn’t that hungry but figured that would pretty much always be the case. He nodded and got up. The two wandered down rows of cubicles, most empty until they came to the break corner.

“So, what would you like for a snack?” June asked.

Mike took a look. He furrowed his brow as he realized the options were Mr. Good Bar and every type of dried fruit you could imagine. From cherries to mango to apple to dragonfruit, they all sat there in little air vacuumed sacs.

“Someone really likes fruit here. No other candy bars or crackers or anything?”

“The Heaven Collective asked for us to only carry honeyed dates, which we do, F8, but compromises were made to give us at least a few options.”

“I guess I’ll take a Mr. Good Bar,” Mike decided.

“Good choice. Guess God liked how the name sounded similar to him. Who knows?” June tossed a few plastic coins into the machine and punched in two Mr. Good Bars.

“Should I know what those coins are?”

“Oh, Haven Helpers. You should have a pile of them in the drawer at your desk. We’re not actually paid you know, but I guess management thought this would make us feel better. Technically the supply is unlimited, but if you go too crazy with it Ralph will have a talk with you. I got 23 things from the vending machine in one day, but now I’m restricted to four unless I’m with someone else. Then I can get 6.”

“Right, right.” Mike’s eyes went hazy has he tried to process everything.

June picked out some dried blueberries. “If they’re a good batch, they taste kinda like sour candies.”

As they started to walk back to their cubicles, June turned and faced Mike while walking backward. “Big question time. How did you know what a Mr. Good Bar was and that you wanted one?”

“Just sounded good I guess. Peanuts and chocolate. Hard to go wrong.”

“How did you know it has peanuts and chocolate?”

Mike paused as he took a bite. “Says on the wrapper doesn’t it?”

“Sure, sure, but there’s no way you read the wrapper while it was in the vending machine. Besides, how do you even know what chocolate and peanuts are? Have you ever eaten before right now?”

Mike realized he hadn’t ever eaten before. He had no memory of anything before his orientation with Ralph.

June took his silence as permission to keep going. “As far as we know today is your first day in existence, but you know things. Human things and non-human things. We both know we’re angels, but we’re not flying around in white robes with wings, are we? Doesn’t make any sense. How do we even know that we don’t fit our clients’ stereotypes?”

“Why are you asking about all this? Is this some part of the orientation?”

“Hell no. And Ralph would be PO’d if he heard me. I just think we deserve to understand who we are, where we come from, and why we’re stuck in a call center. At least the people we’re talking to had some sort of choice about their eternity. We just showed up. I’ve been here for eight years and haven’t been able to figure out anything.”

June looked Mike right in the eyes. “Maybe you can help.”

“I don’t know.” Mike averted his eyes and stared down at the ground. “I think I should get back to work for now.”

“Yeah, yeah. Take your time to chew things over. But, goes without saying, be a pal and don’t mention any of this to the others.”

“Sure.” Mike sat down as quickly as possible went back to answering support questions and answering calls from people who didn’t understand why the afterlife couldn’t have drugs and how someone could mess up the difference between being a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church in America.

The hours went by and the next thing he knew the lights were blinking, and an intercom voice was calling for everyone to turn in for the night.

Ralph wandered over as Mike turned off his computer. “Hey Mike, how was the first day?”

“It was busy. Lot of calls, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

“That’s great! I knew you’d catch on quick. Follow me and I’ll show you to the Repose Chambers. Even we need a break!”

Down a hallway, some stairs, and another hallway was a series of doors. Same fluorescent lighting and tan carpet as the rest of the office. Ralph brought Mike to one with a big, embossed J5 on it. “This one is you. Welcome again to the group. Night.” Ralph slapped Mike on the back and walked away.

Mike opened the door to find a small room that only contained a slanted table, tilted only enough for Mike to partially lie on it. He put his back on it, pushed, and let the table shift, taking his full weight and lifting his legs off the floor.

A deep darkness overtook the whole room and Mike thought to himself, “I guess I’m spending eternity in Haven.”

Hope you enjoyed the first part of Outsourced Divinity. Look forward to the next part of the story!