Sara was sitting in her favorite chair, finishing a crossword puzzle when the call came. A steady, summer rain was falling and through the open patio doors, the world smelled of green and loam. Like so many occurrences in this pleasant place, the call followed a premonition. The Amherst Bulletin crossword puzzle she was working was called 'Sounds Fishy,' and the clue 'helpless' led her to think 'flounder,' but instead she automatically wrote 'Hubbard' with an exclamation point. These kinds of things happened quite often, so she was hardly shocked when she heard the news from the stranger on the phone. It wasn't like when you were alive and had those coincidences where you'd think of someone and then they'd call, but nothing would come of it. No, in this place, these sorts of things always meant something.
She wondered who this Joe Smith was when he first introduced himself. Sara had no idea that there was another reality sitting cheek to jowl with hers, let alone one filled to the brim with more popes and prophets, baghwans and bishops, muftis and movie stars, cardinals and conmen than you could shake a stick at. She had always assumed there would be an afterlife since her mother was a spiritualist, and Sara had delved into black magick through her relationship with Jack Parsons, from whose bed Hubbard had lured her. It just hadn't turned out quite the way she imagined it would. Though very pleasant and calm, day-to-day existence here felt sort of subdued and muffled.
"Joseph Smith. I was the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? You know . . . the Mormons?" Joe wasn't getting anywhere, she was silent on the other end of the line.
"Oh, right, yes . . . Mormons" she said drawing out the first 'o' in Mormon. There was another long pause, then she blurted out "Is this about Ron Hubbard by any chance?"
Smith was a bit shocked, "Well, as a matter of fact, uh, why yes. Yes it is. How did you know?"
"A fish told me. Are you the ones who don't do blood transfusions?" asked Sara earnestly.
"A fish told . . . I . . . well, uh, no. No, you're thinking of the Jehovah's Witnesses, they're a bit weird like that" Joe finished.
"I always got you people confused with them. Sorry, but between Hubbard and Jack, my taste for exotic religious experiences soured a bit" she said dryly.
Smith went on, "Well, I am calling about Hubbard. He's finally emerged from his loop and I'm sure that sooner or later, you'll be drawn to him for release."
"Loop? Release? Release from what?" she had no idea what he was talking about.
"How long have you been . . . you know . . ." Joe stammered.
"Look, if you mean dead, then just say dead" Sara was getting annoyed by this guy. "And what do you mean by 'loop?'" she queried.
Joe continued, "On certain rare occasions, when one arrives, uh, here, or where you are, one might not be quite ready to face one's deeds in life and one goes into a repetitive, protective sort of trance."
"Oh, one does, does one?" said Sara theatrically. "Well, that explain's precisely nothing. We didn't exactly get a manual when we woke up dead, you know."
"Sara, haven't you noticed that there are some people who just seem to be stuck in a loop of sorts, always doing the same thing over and over again?"
She thought about it for a moment then said, "Oh, you mean like Miss Huntoon down the street. She just walks to the gate and calls for some lost child, over and over again. She doesn't seem to even see any of the rest of us."
"Well, there you go! She probably did something awful when she was alive and can't face it. Sounds like a classic loop in action. In any case, I could use your help in finding Hubbard and since you were affected by him so negatively, it should be a cinch to find him using your pull. May I send some missionaries to collect you?" he asked.
"My pull? I doubt I'd have any pull with him. I despise the man, and last I checked, the feeling was mutual. Please be clear, Mr. Smith. What are you saying?" This man was proving to be quite vexing.
"Pull isn't something you have, it's something you feel, something that guides you. What I'm saying is that I need to find Hubbard and, whether you know it or not, so do you." the man sounded deadly earnest.
"Alright, so let's say I do go with your missionaries, how will that help you find him?" her curiosity was piqued now.
"It's called intersectionality, here. And when I say 'here,' I mean the reality where I am. I'm assuming things work more or less the same way where you are. You're in an adjacent reality, a sort of cosmic waiting room." Explaining this was always a challenge.
"Cosmic waiting room? Might I ask exactly what it is that I'm to wait for?"
"Well, those of us here where I am, we were all leaders of some sort. Cults, religions, theatre, politics. The common thread we all share is that each and every one of us had followers in life. We're trapped here basically, cut off from all the adjacent realities. We have caretakers who can travel between dimensions and help facilitate your transition." This was always the complicated part. "We believe that your reality serves as a waystation for those who need to intersect with some of our denizens."
"Wait a second, my 'transition' to what, or should I say 'where?'"
"You see, when you've been affected by one of us over here in a powerful way you need to interact with them to set you free." His tone was concerned and kind.
"Free from what? I'm already dead, what's left after that?"
"We don't know. I'd love to tell you there's something wonderful, but we think it just might be oblivion or nonexistence. To be honest, after a few hundred years, you'll pine for it. Trust me."
Sara had to think about that one. She had been dead for some 17 years at this point, and her time here had been wonderfully restful. Reading, gardening, painting and cooking filled out her days. Her house was lovely, with a view of Mt. Holyoke and the woods that came right up to her cottage garden. At first she had missed her husband Miles. She thought that surely they'd be together once he passed on, but he never did show up. She was 73 when she went and surely Miles would be in his nineties by now. She figured that it wasn't impossible for him to still be alive, but doubt always gnawed. Eventually, she moved on with her afterlife, made friends, dated a few men. They would talk about their situations, but that's all it ever amounted to. Talk. It was as though nobody really cared what the truth about their reality was. Now here was someone who was claiming to be in another afterlife, and a prophet to boot. It was all too tempting to ignore.
"You know what, mister? I think I may just take you up on your offer, but there's going to be a catch."
Joe wasn't expecting this answer, especially the whole catch part, but it was better than a cold 'no.' "Very well then, what is this catch then?"
"I want to bring a friend along. Someone who reached out to me once, when I was down and out. Someone who understands. We're sort of sisters who never actually met. If anyone has a dog in this fight it's her."
"And this would be?" Joseph asked tentatively.
"Margaret Hubbard, Ron's first wife. Polly, think she liked to be called. The bastard really put it to her for years. She passed sometime in the '60s. I owe this to her." For the first time in 17 years Sara felt truly present, as though she'd awakened from a trance. She knew one thing for sure, Smith was right about there being a pull, and she felt it as sure as her own pulse. She had to find Polly.
"How do we do it?" asked Sara.
"Leave that to me, I'll find your friend. I'll send the boys to collect you at once. Thank you Mrs. Hollister, thank you so very much. Goodbye for now." With that the line went to a dial tone and she hung up her phone.
She looked around her tidy, perfect little cottage, only now, it didn't look as comforting and soothing as it used to. It seemed confining and more than a little smothering. She wondered if she should pack a bag. Would things still just show up when she needed them in this other reality? Were the rules the same? Her mind was flooded with possible scenarios, and not all of them were pretty. She turned on the television, but got only static. The same with the radio. Was it the storm? No. The rain was retreating to the northeast and the sun was sparkling on the droplets in her garden. Just then, she heard a knock at the door. It had been only minutes since she hung up the phone. How could they have arrived so quickly?
Sara opened her front door, not to Mormon missionaries, but to Polly Hubbard's warm smile. She was soaking wet and clutching a shivering Corgi.
"I'm awfully sorry to bother you, but I was driving back to Philadelphia and this little fellow ran out in front of me. I swerved to get out of the way and ended up in a ditch. and I wondered if I could use your phone for some help?" said the first Mrs. Hubbard.
"Polly! It's me. Sara Hollister . . . I mean Northrup . . . you know, Hubbard! Your letter meant so much to me and I always wanted to thank you for it, but . . . well, the thing is I was just talking about you to the Mormon guy." This clearly wasn't registering from the blank look on Polly's face. "I know this must sound crazy, but we were just about to go looking for you."
"You're Sara Northrup?" Polly was stunned.
"Yes! I'm Sara Northrup, Alexis' mother. I got a call from Joseph Smith, he's in some other dimension . . . I know it sounds nuts, but he said I had to go to find Hubbard over there, that he was out of some kind of loop and finding him would free me from something and I told him I wouldn't do it without you. Look, I hardly know how to explain this to myself, come in, you two are soaked! I'll put some tea on and try to explain . . ."