And Other Stories


Clerical Error

Kent C Ashton. Dead after 23 hours, 58 minutes and 3 seconds. He is survived by his parents, Clive G Ashton and Jane Bell Miller-Ashton, his wife Margaret Hall, and as well Kent C Ashton.

Kent stared at the writing. It was scrawled in golden ink on black pages, one line on one page among many, many, many others in the massive tome. It smelled like freshly-dug earth. It was also very much so wrong, and not just because he was, y'know, alive to be looking at it. "This is mistaken. I mean, it doesn't make any sense."

The person in front of him didn't move, or otherwise acknowledge what he said for several seconds that somehow seemed almost to stretch out for a lonely eternity. But then that voice trailed out from under that obscuring hood, haunting and mournful and pissing him off. "There is no mistake."

"Uh-huh. And this, right here? Where it says I died after two days?"

"Just shy of two days."

"Right. Well, I'm 38! I mean look, I have a wife, right there."

"Yes. You did. I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that she's not due for some time."

"...Well." Kent squinted. That was nice, he guessed, it was sort of difficult to really take seriously. On account of how absolutely none of it was actually happening, like, obviously. But, wait, no, business professional Kent Ashton would not be taken in so easily. "No changing the subject! That's glaringly wrong."

"You were alive for precisely one hundred seventy-two thousand, six hundred and eighty-three seconds. I counted. You can as well, if you like." The figure reached one sleeve into the other and fished out an ornate little hourglass, pinched between two fabric folds, the hand under the sleeve. It was full of a fine powder, grains of sparkling black sand which were all gathered in the bottom half.

"That doesn't mean anything."

"It means everything. But it’s understandable you might have difficulty understanding it. No matter."

"Look here, okay. I don't care if you count that wrong time to the second. I was born 38 years ago, okay. What, are you saying the world was made last Thursday?"

"If it was, then so was I, and without any memo to the effect." Somehow, despite the entire lack of any visible face, Kent felt the other figure smile. "No, you, Kent C Ashton, in particular, lived for a total span of twenty-three hours, fifty-eight minutes, and three seconds. Consecutively, before you ask."

"Yeah. Okay, sure, that's what you think. But how? I was born in 2350! You're not gonna tell me the year isn't 2389. My 39th birthday was coming up."

"Indeed it was."

"Then— What are you even saying? Like I said, nonsense. Let me go."

"Kent, I am honestly not sure what is so confusing. But perhaps you might be better served by asking new questions."

"Fuck you." Kent took a deep breath and then shook his head. Calm down, champ, stay cool. So that was a scratch, but it was just the warm-up, not the clincher. Here he went. "Okay, sorry, I got mad."

"I understand. I took no offense."

"Great. Okay. Here's a question. What are you trying to say here, where I'm survived by Kent C Ashton?"

"Simply what it says. Kent C Ashton is one of the remaining living members of your immediate family."

"But I'm Kent C Ashton! C standing for C, nothing else! That's me!"

"You are Kent C Ashton. He is also Kent C Ashton."

"That doesn't make any sense!"

"It makes perfect sense. Oh. Perhaps you will understand better when I explain how you died. I always thought that should have been included in the book."

"Oh. Uh... Well, like I'm telling you, I didn't die."

"You died of total disintegration at an atomic level."

"What? How? When? I was just— Oh, no. Oh no, you are shitting me."

"I am not."

"You mean I... My daily commute kills me?"

"Technically speaking, it only killed you once. But yes. Kent C Ashton dies twice most weekdays."

"And transporting back from weekend vacation this time yesterday..."

"That is correct."

"But that's... I mean... What the shit, man? This is a bad joke."

"I'm quite sorry. I do not make the rules. But I'm glad you are now accepting what happened."

"Yeah, I... Wait. You said my wife wasn't gonna die for a while. But she came with me on that Saturday away."

"Yes. She will stay home for the next one. Relatively speaking, thirteen days is reasonable to class as 'a while'."

"Great. Absolutely peachy. I'm sure she'll be thrilled about that. But... What does that mean for me? Am I gonna get overwritten when I, I mean the other me, takes his trip back home today?"

"Oh, no. That would simply be cruel. Nothing of the sort will happen to you. You already died once."

"More like a thousand times, apparently."

"Ten thousand, four hundred and eighteen times, to be precise."

"Great. Splendid. Stellar! That's fucking absurd."

"My condolences. Here, Kent. If you would, might you follow me?"


The figure held out a hand. Or, well, a draping sleeve with the vague impression of a hand underneath. Kent hesitated a second, and then sighed. Or mimicked a sigh with his astral ghost body, or whatever. He took the hand, entirely unsurprised by the distinct impression of it being all bones under there. The figure led him forward, to a pair of big doors in front of him. He swallowed, gripped the hand tighter, and then pushed the door open. There was a blinding light, and then—

He was in a large room. It looked like his bedroom, except way too big, and blending into his work room at spots. It also went on for what looked like forever. More than anything, though, the place was crammed with people he knew. A big cheer went up, followed by some laughing, waves, and someone came over to give him a hug. Kent couldn’t help but tear up, the catharsis of a happy ending after everything, even if he hadn’t been ready for an ending yet. It was nice to be surrounded by familiar faces.

Even if most were familiar from the mirror.