Kevin died suddenly.
It took him a while to realize it, because he thought he was dreaming. Walking along in wintry downtown Chicago, his feet crunching in the snow, there was a few minutes of discontinuity and then suddenly he realized he was floating. Several feet below him was a prone figure surrounded by what looked like a spilled strawberry Slushie. A large icicle had broken off the side of the looming skyscraper and buried itself like a dagger into the top of the poor bastard’s head. Oddly, the poor bastard wore a coat identical to Kevin’s … and shoes, too.
The uh-oh moment came when Kevin recognized the grinning monkey’s head tattoo right where a normal person’s wristwatch would be. What were the odds someone else would have that? None, he finally admitted to himself.
It wasn’t long before the beautiful white light showed up, and a guy in a black hooded cloak holding some sort of antique farm implement urged him to float into it. Beyond, he knew, would be a land of pearly gates and puffy clouds, and thinking what a trip that would be, he went for it. The light itself seemed to have a kind of gravity, pulling at him, so after he got too close to the event horizon he couldn’t change his mind even if he’d wanted too. It sucked him in like a Kleenex into a Hoover.
There was music on the other side, but not the angelic choir Kevin had expected. It was a muted and low fidelity jazz, sounding a lot like he were listening to it underwater.
As the glow from the beautiful light faded, Kevin began to make out details. At first he saw what he thought were the pearly gates, but as the edges sharpened Kevin had to finally admit to himself it was shelving.
On the shelves were bottles.
Rows and rows of bottles.
He was in a liquor store. It was even one he recognized — it was the Binny’s in the South Loop. And not only was he in a liquor store, Kevin was sitting on one of the shelves, next to the bottles.
He was a bottle. He was inside the bottle.
“Hey, hi there, excuse me,” said the bottle next to him. “Did you just wake up?”
“What?” Kevin said, surprised that he could talk.
“Ah, yes, you are awake. Good! Could you tell me, perchance, what brand I am?”
“What?” Kevin said again.
“Can you read my label? Could you tell me if I’m Baileys or Carolinas?”
Kevin had to fight the rising tide of panic that threatened to overwhelm him. “You’re a Baileys,” he said.
“You’re sure? You can see my label?”
“Yes, plain as day.” He wondered how he could do that, being that he no longer had eyes.
“I’m a Baileys,” the bottle said. “Thank God.”
“Why? Because it means I’m top shelf — like you.”
“What am I?
“You? You don’t know?”
Kevin went to shake his head, but didn’t have one. “I just got here.”
“Oh, well, you really did just wake up,” said the Baileys. “You’re a genuine Kahlua.”
“Did you just die or something? Went into the light? Found yourself here?”
“Think you’re dreaming?”
“Well you’re not. Welcome to the afterlife, Kahlua.”
“I’m … this … I’m not—”
“Better get used to it.”
“This can’t be the afterlife! It can’t be. And my name isn’t Kahlua! It’s … my name, it’s … um.” He couldn’t remember.
“Your name is Kahlua,” said Baileys.
After a few moments Kahlua remembered he was feeling panicky about something, but couldn’t remember what. “Why am I here?” he asked finally. “Why aren’t I in heaven?”
“You think you’re not? You’re a top shelf spirit sitting in a world class liquor store!”
“But what am I doing here?”
“You’re waiting to be reincarnated. We all are.”
Kahlua, who used to be Kevin, could feel his previous life slipping from his mind like the details of a dream upon waking. He grasped at it desperately. “I don’t get it,” he said to Baileys, “I just don’t get it. Why did I turn into a liquor? What does it have to do with being reincarnated?”
“This is how I understand it,” Baileys told him. “We’re spirits, right?”
“We’re spirits. Alcohol is called ‘spirits’ for a reason — this is why. So we wait here until someone comes and buys us, drinks us, and under our influence have unprotected sex after which we are implanted as a soul in the newly conceived child.”
That made sense, but yet it didn’t make sense. “But,” he told Baileys, “not all children are conceived while their parents are drunk. Are you saying they’re born soulless?”
“No Kahlua, think of it this way … human population is constantly growing. There’s always more babies being born than souls to occupy them … so those are new souls. It takes inebriated parents to conceive a child with a more experienced soul. And if you look around you, this explains a lot.”
Kahlua could no longer remember enough of his previous life to judge if this was true. It seemed to make sense. As he sat there pondering it, a beautifully dressed young couple came walking by and the woman said, “Oh!” and reached out to snatch Kahlua off the shelf.
Baileys called out, “Not fair! Not freaking fair! You haven’t been here fifteen freaking minutes! I’ve been sitting here for weeks!”
If Kevin/Kahlua had shoulders he would have shrugged them. It was just a case that he — and this young couple — were about to get lucky.