"...Y'all ain't saying I'm dead, are ya?"
"Yes. It's a shame, but you are dead. I'm very sorry about it."
"I see." It clicked inside of Buck’s head that the last minutes of his life had been rather mundane. One minute, there he was in his truck driving down a county road. He had a lady guest in the passenger seat- and she now floated in front of him. They were having a nice conversation about something inconsequential one moment.
The very next, a piebald deer skipped onto the wet road in front of his diesel. He barely had time to see it, but when he did, the wrong reflexes kicked in. Hit the brakes and swerve, which isn't what you're supposed to do- but how often did a spotty white deer come up on you? The man swung the steering wheel over and- careening off a steep shoulder, into a gnarly mass of branches. "Well. That's... I'm, uh, really sorry. About crashing. Earlier. Total accident. Ya seem like a nice lady. Or seemed, since we're uh, dead."
"No! No, don't be. It was completely out of your control." The little lady in the loose dress laughed. She had a thick ponytail that fell back to her waist. It went well with her white dress, now dry as a bone in this... afterlife. Buck couldn't figure if this was the same woman, they had the same face and the same voice, but the one sitting in his passenger seat had a demeanor not unlike a beaten dog. Begging and puppy eyes. The man had no heart to tell her no, and so she slid up into his truck and the two traveled. Right up until they died, a thought prevailing over most others in Buck's head.
"Oh- c'mon now! That was preventable! Insurance would say so."
She floated in the same void he did, except she'd gotten herself comfortable and held herself proudly, while Buck had all his limbs at odd angles. When he got the notion to get into motion, his joints creaked like old wooden doors. "You did your best with what you could do, it's nothing to be ashamed about. First time I've been in a truck crash, though."
The man scratched his stubble. Sheepishly, he looked around. There wasn't a single other soul there. He coughed and looked her in the eye. "Well now I just feel bad! And since we're in, uh, Heaven, or Limbo, or- however this all works, where's the pearly gates? Y'know, the angels? With them burning wheels and wings and- ma'am I'm not going to Hell, am I?"
Ziva chuckled again. "No! Nothing at all like that. You see, it is true that you are dead, Mister Roebuck. But that isn't the end of things." She snapped her fingers. "Why you're a good, strong young man, and such a kind soul for helping a poor woman in her time of need. I can't just let such a kind person go to waste in a stuffy place like Paradise! There's a lot of worlds that could use someone like you, you know?"
Buck twisted in the... 'air,' if that was what he was breathing, processing what he heard. "Excuse me, could you repeat that?"
"Verbatim?" She smirked and clasped her hands together. "You have a great soul! You're young, you're talented, and you've got a good head on your shoulders. It is such a shame your Earth lost you so soon, but don't fret! We can still make something of you in your next life!"
"Right." Buck tried to float himself down, succeeding mostly in throwing himself onto an invisible floor by the power of his own will. Was there a floor? It just felt like a surface, the lack of texture or temperature its own sensation distinct from any other. "Ow- So- wait, are you an angel or something?"
"No, think a little higher."
The good ole' boy furrowed his brow. "Are you God?" He coughed and sat himself up cross-legged, looking at the floating lady. "Uh- w- where all them paintinhs wrong?"
"Little 'g' god, not big G God." She pointed upwards. "Think a little lower."
Buck nodded. "A God?"
Ziva gave him a little hand gesture, letting out a long, drawn-out 'ehhhh' sound with her throat. She clapped her hands together suddenly, and Buck found himself with his ass in a wooden chair. "There, that's more comfortable, don't you think? Yes, a god, oh y'know, just one that slips around and works hard in her domain. Divine duties and responsibilities and all that you know. Now normally, it would be a more, say..."
Buck straightened up immediately and leaned in close, eyes locking on hers. He pursed his lips fiercely. “Ma’am- why am I here?”
"Oh, why are you here?” Ziva cocked her head to the side and crossed her shapely legs together. "Well you’ve hardly lived out your first life, dying so young and whatnot. If you weren't dead then I'd just send you off with another kind of favor. Why I'm betting you'll like another shot wouldn't you? Take another chance at things? "
“You what?” He balked. "Well, of course! Are ya silly? I'd rather like ta' be alive again! I had- I had college classes to attend and all that!"
"Splendid!" Ziva stood, arms behind her back and her posture straight and imperial. A decidedly different look from soaked-to-the-bone waif Buck met her as. "There are other worlds in need of such fine young men like yourself, wouldn't you say? I can't send you back to your world, that's a little beyond my powers. And the deal I have with the big guy. But I can set you up pretty well!"
That gave him pause in his hurried train of thoughts. New world? Favors? What about those kind of favors? He chose to hold his tongue and let her continue on, though he did feel a pang in his heart. It... wasn't like he had a lot to lose, admittedly, but back 'home' he at least had something to look forward to. He'd just gotten a lucrative grant to go study at a technical school, and everyone in his family was proud. It was a rare moment of pleasantness for him. First generation college student! So exciting! They even brought out the kegs since he was turning just that age for it too!
Then he crashed his truck and died, he realized, and that didn’t really matter any more. Maybe his corpse was twisted up in a pile of metal in the old diesel. It put a frown on his face. It hurt to look back at it but he didn't have any of the time ro process it: one second alive, the next, rationally aware of his death and soon to be rebirth.
The goddess pulled a desk from the nothingness, where she leaned across it with a spark of excitement in her eyes. Set in the desk were multiple silver plates, polished to mirror shines. As Buck watched, the plates showed landscapes and scenes of all kinds. High-rising skyscrapers bejeweled in neon, oceans stretching far to the horizon, tranquil fields of green. Ziva shook her hips from side to side to catch Buck's eye. "So, what would you like? You lived quite a, not to be rude, quite a mundane life before. Thinking you want to spice things up? Or just more of the same?"
He cleared his throat and averted his eyes. It was rude to look, but he couldn't help himself: pretty women would always do him in. She happened to be easy on the eyes, and maybe that's why he'd let her in his truck.
"Or… What?" Ziva giggled, knowing where his eyes were going. "See something you like?"
“Ma’am, you’re quite pretty.” He laced his fingers together and laid them on his lap. “You’re sayin’ a whole new world?
"A whole new world. Absolutely. As far and away from Earth as you can get." She pointed to the skyscrapers. "Now, mind you, all of these worlds would benefit greatly from a nice young man like yourself, you understand. But in different ways. Say, just ask about any of them, I can let you know anything you'd like. Or- oh, I could set you back up in a college! Didn't you say you wanted to join the sports team?"
Buck leaned over. Those skyscrapers turned him off. Urban life he could not stand, just the thought put bile in his throat. He pushed that one away and checked out the oceanic one. The vast expanse of blue roiled, and he glimpsed the scales of a massive sea creature beneath the water. A tiny brown speck crashed against the waves, and the man shook his head. "Well I do think I ought to have gotten outdoors more, I did love hunting. How's the forest-y looking one, here?"
"Ooooh, that one?" Ziva pushed her shoulders up, handing the plate over to Buck. He took a deep, long look into it, watching the trees and grass sway in a gentle wind. A cerulean sky free of clouds, a view through a window into a picturesque landscape. The colors stood out like watercolors. "It's quite fantastical. You'll be free of such modern things like rent, or paying mortgages, if you go there. I'm sure you can appreciate that. And the tuition fees aren't high! You could become a student again! But I must warn you, it can get quite chaotic over there. Good chaotic, mind. There's dragons and elves and plenty of cute girls for you to look at!"
He picked the plate up, clearing his throat.. "Oh, well, hold on, what's this about not having to pay any mortgages? Well is that it? What's the catch? Could ya fill me in on this'n?"
"Yeah. The catch. You know, hidden terms and conditions. Will I have to sign with my blood?" Buck twisted the plate up and around and over, trying to find controls on it to see if there were a few different views on it. As if by magic the plate shifted, pulling up a new perspective. He peered through in aw. It looked cozy and rustic, like somewhere in Europe from a few centuries prior. "Will ya own my soul or, uh, my firstborn child? Or is this a John Carter or Narnia kind of thing?"
The goddess let out a hearty laugh. "Well yes- okay it sort of is like a John Carter thing, now that I think about how I'm taking you over there-"
"It's like John Carter!?" He nearly jumped up in his seat. "Can I go to Barsoom?"
Ziva tore into laughtrr. "No! No, no, absolutely not, you cannot go to Barsoom. I'm trying to- I'm trying to give you a reward, you can't go there. That's- a little out of my abilities. I don’t even know where I’d find some place like Barsoom."
Buck deflated, but resigned himself to watching through the looking glass with some tiny interest.. Ziva went on to explain the intricacies of the world he was looking at. How it had elves, dragons, all sorts of mythical creatures thought impossible back home. The woman spoke of the idyllic pastures and natural beauty to be found there. What caught his ears were the mighty temples, the cities on mountaintops, the... he lost track as Ziva rambled on. Despite being pretty, and having a nice voice, he just couldn’t quite focus on her.
"-Finally, you'll even get a blessing, a little helping hand from me, your patron goddess- Roebuck? Are you listening?"
"H-huh, what? Sorry. Could ya repeat that?" The man had fallen into a bit of a stupor at all of that information.
Ziva grumbled and gave him that most chilling of glares, like a teacher catching a student off-guard. "Mister Roebuck!. I'm offering you another shot at life. I'd expect you to be a little more attentive. For a college student I'd have thought sitting there and learning was your forte!"
"I was uh, trying to take the more hands on classes." Buck sheepishly nodded his head sheepishly and uttered an apology under his breath. Not his fault she was so dang pretty he found himself thinking about a lot of nothing. He got the gist of things: he'd speak their language, have her backing and her blessing. All that and he'd be dropped off somewhere safe. It was an idyllic looking pastoral place..it looked.about as safe as the rural spits of land he grew up on anyways. Heck, maybe it'd be just like home!
"Right. Now, you seem interested in this world. I think you'll quite like it." Ziva vanished from the desk with another gesture. The same motion took Buck's seat with it, sending him careening into the void. "So let's get going! You've got a lot ahead of you, young man!"
Buck dropped like a rock, his sorry ass meeting a stone floor. He yelped and spewed profanities at the goddess: she laughed it off and helped him up. Then Ziva circled around his back and pushed him along, where Buck saw a great many doors. They had labels in an illegible font that made his head hurt to look at. "Hey- wait, aren't ya gonna let me go back home and speak with my family? Get my affairs in order- I haven't even written a will! Can I go as a ghost or somethin'? Just- I had some food that might spoil!"
“Sorry dear, but there’s a little stuff even beyond me.” The goddess gave him a playful pat on the rear. Buck sputtered out some words at the sheer audacity. She sure was touchy, but he couldn’t resist! Ziva practically pushed him along the polished marble tunnel. "C'mon! Don't worry about it too much. I'll make sure it all gets sorted out, you've got a new life ahead of you- I got your back!"
She swung them both around and threw open a door. It opened to the familiar scene of the forested hills he saw. Off on the horizon he noticed smokestacks rising. A little European town stood up, cut through with a wide river. Grand mountains stood high in the distance, and there weren't too many clouds to speak of from his view. "Miss Ziva, ma’am! Wait, wait, excuse me, can I ask you one last question?"
“Sure! But I think the best teacher is experience, and you obviously aren’t going to pay attention if I just lecture at you-” The goddess pushed him up to the threshold. He teetered on the very edge of the doorframe, grasping the wood trim around him and barely holding back. This Ziva goddess had a lot of strength in that petite frame. He got the sense she could’ve just threw him out right there, but had enough decency to respect his minor wishes.. "Yes?"
"Ma’am, before we go, can I get all that in writing, please?" Buck sheepishly looked back at her. “Do you have like a brochure or somethi- Huh, hey!"
He didn't quite understand the why of interrupting him. He had a perfectly valid question! It chapped his ass, and his ass was already hurting. First the stone, then the foot firmly planted up his rear end! Buck yelped and lost his grip, tumbling out of the door and entering a short freefall. His impromptu skydiving ended just as abruptly as it began with him making out with a hole in the ground.
"You sure can! Just do what comes natural, Bucky!" Ziva laughed. He groaned and contorted in the grass. A few moments sucking in that humiliating landing, and something heavy landed on top of his head. It felt like a textbook and hurt just as bad. "Your written terms are in there. I'll be keeping in touch!"
With that he heard a definitive click and a whooshing noise. It left him alone with the gentle sounds of nature. In order of pain it was an overall five out of ten. His face hurt the most, then his ass, then his pride and dignity as a man. But the dirt happened to be quite comfortable for the man whose mind couldn't wrap his head around his current state of affairs.
And, if anything, maybe it’d help clear his head.