6. Journey to the DPRS

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Geoff opened his mouth

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Geoff opened his mouth. He was about to say that they should wait until morning, that it was crazy to leave now, in the middle of the night. The Department of Pet Relocation Services wouldn't even be open yet, not until daybreak. Where would they sit? Where would they wait? But as he looked at Naomi he couldn't find the words.

He saw the stillness in her face. She wasn't glancing nervously around the churchyard. She was staring right back at him. She knew exactly what she wanted.

"Of course darling. We can go tonight".

And anyway, wasn't this what he wanted? To stop floating, to have a purpose.

"Sounds good to me," said Jamieson "There's a nice little Japanese whisky bar near the DPRS that I've been meaning to go back to for a while now. Have you been to the Civic Quarter before?" He asked Geoff.

Geoff shook his head. He didn't like to admit it, but it was probably a good thing that Jamieson was coming along. From what he'd heard, Skeleton City was a vast, sprawling metropolis. It would take him decades, maybe even centuries to explore all of it. It was as big as Tokyo, New York, Bangkok, London, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro put together. At least that's what he'd heard.

It had suburbs that were like entire enclosed worlds. And that was only the top layer in the main chasm of the underworld, with the closed sky roof twinkling hundreds of feet above them. Everywhere throughout the city, manholes led to deeper layers with vaults and underground dormitory's housing the less fortunate undead. Nobody knew how far down it went.

Jamieson hooked his green bottle into a leather satchel that hung off his belt. He stood and stretched. His bones made an audible cracking sound.

"Let's get moving then," Jamieson said. He walked away from the churchyard with Naomi quick on his heels. Geoff followed them.

The road they were walking on turned into the city, away from the beach. Soon they had no black ink ocean stretching away to the horizon to steady their nerves.

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The spaces between buildings become fewer and further between. There were more levels of things. Townhouses with two stories and then three. The normal tower blocks of residential flats mushroomed into larger office complexes.

They walked down electrically lit streets with impressive tower blocks, car parks and vacant offices looming over both sides of them. Their shadows moved in front of them, stretched out on the concrete like sideshow mirror reflections.

 Their shadows moved in front of them, stretched out on the concrete like sideshow mirror reflections

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"Of course," Geoff said.

Naomi had been talking about Bernie almost non-stop for the last three hours.

"Look," Geoff pointed into the distance, "see those thin black lines that reach from the horizon up into the sky? What are they?" he asked Jamieson.

He'd noticed them before but had never thought to ask anyone.

"They're the gateways between the worlds, the sky ladders," Jamieson replied.

Naomi continued looking ahead of them at the footpath "remember when we went together to pick her up. And the little girl walked out of the flat, straight up to us at the car and just held Bernie out in her hands. She was so brave, giving her away even though she must have loved her so much."

Geoff reached out and took Naomi's hand in his. "I remember," he said.

The only other people they saw were homeless skeletons sleeping in makeshift beds in the street. When homeless people died they didn't get an automatic upgrade in the afterlife, Jamieson explained. Most were assigned a new homeless spot in the underworld which matched as closely as possible their living arrangements at the time of their death - a street corner, a space under a mural, a tree in a park.

Some of the lucky ones ended up in an undercover lot in one of the multi-storey car parks that were dotted throughout the cities of the underworld.

"The afterlife isn't fair," Geoff said.

"It's about as fair as the before life," Jamieson replied.

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It was nearly daybreak by the time they reached the offices of the Department of Pet Relocation Services. The building itself was nondescript: a large rectangle lying on its side. But the DPRS was used frequently enough that some kind souls had taken it upon themselves to look after its upkeep. The building was mostly straight. The broken windows were neatly boarded up. There was minimal graffiti scrawled across its facade.

Unlike any other building they had seen so far that night, parts of it were actually white - not the dull ashy grey of so many structures they had passed. There probably would have been more white buildings in skeleton city, had they been cleaned. But who had time for cleaning when they were dead. Maybe it was a testament to the special place that pets held in the hearts of people, alive or otherwise, that the DPRS was deemed worthy of maintenance.

It was a lot wider than it was tall, with two large glass doors, twice the size of Geoff, in the dead centre of the building. The outer doors were unlocked. Jamieson pushed them open.

The entrance hall was as tall as the whole building

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The entrance hall was as tall as the whole building. Geoff could see the railings, walkways and office windows of at least five floors stacked above them.

In the middle of the speckled marble floor, there was a statue of a man and a small boy. The man statue was carrying the boy statue in his arms. They could have been a woman and a girl. It was hard to tell much about the figures as they were shaped in a simplified way; almost abstract representations of humans. They looked like maybe they were stumbling off a battlefield.

While Jamieson unholstered his green bottle and took a swig, Geoff and Naomi stood for a moment looking all the way up to the top of the statue. Behind the heads, in faded letters, the words "Civic Centre War Memorial" were etched into the wall.

The statues looked like they were made out of solid iron. They were black and heavy and chiselled with great jagged sweeps of force. The room was lit by old style, non-environmentally friendly lightbulbs hung in chandeliers from the ceiling on either side of the great metal figures.

The outside doors were big enough that had the giant iron figures suddenly come to life they could have crawled out of the building and stalked off into the night. Perhaps to find medical supplies, a place to sleep or to search for their giant iron family.

Unlike these outer doors, which were open at five in the morning, the inner doors were not. These locked doors were much smaller, human skeleton sized.

And Geoff's weary trio were not the only people waiting for them to open.

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