Reginald and Edgar met up once a year. Every year, at the same time, mere minutes before an old year went out, parting an hour after a new one came in. It was the custom in the world of the dead. Established long eons ago, to encourage friendships among those who would otherwise not cross paths. All dead received a companion, selected by the Deadland lottery, to spend an annual hour with.
Edgar enjoyed that hour, he was always happy to see Reginald. They would spend it at the window to the world of living and watch them welcome the new year. Reginald would grumble, he thought it a fool’s celebration. “They’ll be all dead soon enough,” he’d say.
“But that is why they celebrate,” Edgar answered. “They’re happy they get to see another year!”
Reginald sneered at that. But Edgar hoped there was a small part of him that found at least a little joy in their encounters.
Last year was their hundredth meeting. They fulfilled the ancient custom, there was no need for them to see each other again, here or anywhere. To be sure, many of the dead have formed friendships during these hours, friendships lasting for eternity, but then again, many did not. And last year, Reginald looked like was at the end of his tether.
“I’m so glad this is our last meeting,” he said. “I can’t stand watching these stupid humans any longer.”
“We can do something else if you don’t like watching the living,” Edgar suggested.
“What’s the point? It’s the last time.”
“I’m sorry to hear you say that, Reginald. I thought we have become friends.”
“Friends!” Reginald scoffed. “That is a loose definition.”
“Acquaintances then,” Edgar added quietly, but Reginald listened no more. Once the hour was up, he turned his back on him and marched away from Edgar, not even bothering with saying goodbye.
Edgar was sorry. Over the century, he grew to like his companion. He believed Reginald’s abrasiveness was just a façade, a remnant of his living days. Having survived the trenches of the First World War, only to have his life taken from him by the Spanish flu. And the girl he loved married another man within a year of his death…
But that was so long ago and the world of the dead was so different from the world of living. Sometimes Edgar wondered whether Reginald also hated the Deadland. But where else was there to go? There would not be another place, ever again.
Edgar, too, had departed the world of the living prematurely, finding his death during a cursed voyage, in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. It was hard to accept at first, he missed his loved ones from the world of living, his younger sister in particular. But being dead was not such a bad deal once one got used to it, and the loved ones would join too, for death was inevitable.
Reginald had had no one while he was alive. Except the girl he had once loved, but he didn’t want to see her again. Edgar tried to be his friend, but—
One hundred and one years after they were first brought together by the Deadland lottery, Edgar made his way to their usual spot by the window to the world of living. Reginald wouldn’t come, that he was sure about. Still, Edgar was here. He would see in the new year, reminisce about his former companion, and leave.
He settled himself into a comfortable position. He had a good view of London’s Big Ben, the lit up dial of the clock that would tick the old year away.
Why did he come here? What was he doing? He could have been anywhere else right now, with someone who appreciated his company. There were many who did. “I am an old fool,” he said to himself.
“You’re not that old,” a voice came from behind.
Reginald sat down opposite him.
Edgar could only stare. “What are you doing here?” he asked at last. “You’ve fulfilled the custom.”
“I thought it would be good to see an old friend again,” Reginald answered.
The clock struck twelve, the fireworks exploded, and over their table by the window to the world of living, the two dead men smiled at each other.