As I waited for Daniel to come back, I chatted with Naomi. She was not, as it turns out, an angel. She was an Albanian woman.
"You speak perfect English," I said to her.
"Thank you," she said, "but I do not speak English."
"Okay." I grinned at her, thinking she was kidding.
"No, really," she replied, "we all speak the same language here."
"I only speak English," I said.
"It seems like English to you," she said, "because English was your language when you were alive."
"What?" I was confused.
"They say we all know this language we're speaking, even when we are alive. It is the language of our thoughts. When we are alive, however, we do not speak it."
"We do not speak it," I repeated, frowning in incomprehension.
"That's right," she said, "but we can all understand it. Here, we speak it."
I thought about it for a few minutes. "So, we are not speaking English?"
"So, what are we speaking?"
"They say it pure human language, common to all of us. Linguists call it Cogita."
"Right," she said, "but most people around here call it Aphters."
"That's right," she smiled. "It's hard to grasp at first. Eventually, though, you'll be able to remember how to say things in English and you'll be able to tell the difference."
"Your mind is thinking the same way it has always thought. There's a part of your brain, they say, that maps your thoughts into your language of choice. If you speak only one language fluently, this happens without you noticing. So, that part of you is mapping into Aphters now."
"It's more noticeable for polyglots."
"People who speak multiple languages when they're alive," she said. "Most Americans are monolingual, speaking only English."
"Wow." I didn't know what else to say. I tried to listen to my thoughts, to hear that they were not in English, but I couldn't tell.
"It's best not to think about it too much at first," she said. "There's enough to get used to already."
"Well, Wayne Alan Hall, Jr.," said a voice, vaguely British-sounding. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
I turned to see a man in a tight patrolman's uniform walking up beside me. "Hello, officer," I said, standing to shake his hand.
"Sheriff, actually," he said. "Sheriff Mercury, but you can call me Freddie."
The name and face seemed strangely familiar, but I couldn't place them. "Hello, Sheriff," I said, my hand still extended.
"Right," he paused, looking at my hand for a minute, and then shook it lightly. "So, you're Wayne's son," he said.
"Wayne Hall, right," I said. "Do you know him?"
"Everyone knows him," the Sheriff said, smiling a huge, toothy grin. "He was, after all, the Sheriff before I took the job."
"Yes. He was Sheriff here for quite a long time," he replied. "And a good one at that."
"Wow." I didn't know what to think about that. "He was a police officer when he was alive," I said. "So, you know."
"Yes, I know," he said.
"Can I see him?" I asked.
"Well, of course," the Sheriff replied.
"Wow." I was slowly becoming overwhelmed. It was difficult to concentrate on any of the things I was hearing.
"But," he continued, "he is unavoidably detained for a while."
"Yes," he said. "Let's sit down." I sat in my chair and the Sheriff walked around the table and took a seat beside Naomi. "Hello, Naomi, dear," he said. "I wonder if you would excuse us for a bit."
"Of course," she said, standing to go.
"Oh," I said, standing back to my feet. "I... uh..." I hated to see her go.
"It's okay," she said. "Just ask anyone around here and they can send for me. I'm still working for a few hours." Sensing my anxiety, she walked around the table and gave me a friendly hug.
"Okay," I said, and she walked away.
"Naomi is wonderful, isn't she," the Sheriff said.
Reluctantly I turned away from watching her leave and took my seat. "She is," I said. "She was very kind to me."
"Good," he said, with a down-to-business snap in his voice. "Your father will be so pissed that he wasn't here to meet you, is it Wayne?"
"Al," I said.
"Al. Al Hall. Great," he took out a little notebook and jotted down my name. "He will be crushed, but it could not be helped."
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Well," he began, choosing his words carefully, "Wayne resigned as Sheriff not long ago, to tell you the truth."
"Yes. He did it at the request of the Council," he continued.
"That's right," he said. "They asked him to take a special assignment for a bit."
"A special assignment?"
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Well, I'm afraid I can't tell you that," he said. "I hate that I can't tell you, and you deserve a better reception than this, but there's nothing for it."
"Oh." I wasn't sure what to say.
"There are no other names listed for you," he said. "I know that Wayne didn't know his own family. Do you have other relatives?"
"Well, no," I said. "We never knew Dad's family and Mom hasn't spoken with her family since she was young. They had a falling out or something."
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Oh, it's okay," I said. "I never really knew any other way. There was always just Mom, Dad, Peter, Donna and Me."
"All still alive, save Wayne?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. I suddenly felt a pang of anxiety for my family and my life. "I wonder if they know I'm...?"
"I understand," said the Sheriff. "Really, though, it's no good to worry about that. It's out of your hands."
I didn't respond.
"Well, Al," he went on, "I cannot help you get settled because of the job. I'm sorry about that."
"It's okay." I said.
"Your father's closest friend, however, is a man named David. He's a good man, and I know he'll be happy to show you around and get you settled."
"Yes, that's right. I was thinking of going to see him anyway. I'll send him around. He'll be glad to help, and he's a good guy to know."
"Uh..." I wasn't sure how to respond. "Okay, I guess."
"Great," he said. "Wait here and I'll get Daniel back over here," he said, standing to go. "Sorry again for the lousy reception," he smiled. "I'm sure Wayne will make up for it when he gets back."
"Right," I said.
"Okay, then. David will be around soon. Good to meet you, Al." He walked off quickly.
I sat in the chair, alone at the table, and tried to absorb everything I had heard so far. I'm not sure what I expected the afterlife to be like. I guess I'd never really thought about it that much. "Aphter," I muttered to myself. I sighed and settled into the chair, my mind crowded with a hundred curiosities. I wondered what was next. I wondered where Dad was. I wondered how I died. I wondered about the language. Above all else, however, one question kept crossing my mind.
"I wonder if Naomi's single?"