“We’re almost there,” Eleanor said, squeezing Chidi’s hand. “I hope this Mindy St. Claire person lets us stay.”
“Janet said she would,” Chidi assured her. He tossed a quick look out the train window, then looked back at Eleanor and offered her a nervous smile.
“But can we trust Janet?” argued Tahani. “This could be a trick. Like that time Taylor Swift asked me to help her stage a surprise birthday party for Katy Perry, and it turned out Taylor only wanted to confront Katy about the Left Shark drama with witnesses around her.”
“We can trust Janet,” Jason insisted. He gazed into the eyes of the programmed guide and smiled. “I know she only wants the best for us.”
Janet smiled back at him, then glanced out the window. “Oh no,” she said under her breath. “I must have programmed the wrong destination into the train’s GPS system. This isn’t Mindy St. Claire’s house. This is…”
The train screeched to a stop in front of a large, white, Georgian-styled mansion, covered in colorful, hand-painted graffiti of lotus blossoms and om signs.
“Looks like your kind of place,” Eleanor said to Jason. “This Mindy woman must be into Eastern religions, just like your alter-ego Jianyu. Maybe you should act as our spokesperson with her.”
“Great idea,” agreed Jason. “When I’m Jianyu, I don’t speak. So this should be an easy job.”
Janet’s expression shifted away from her customary mask of bland pleasantness, and she furrowed her brow. “This is a mistake. We’re not at Mindy St. Claire’s house. I took you to…”
Before she could finish her sentence, a skinny, long-haired man wearing round, wire-rimmed glasses stepped out of the mansion’s front door and approached the fugitives from “The Good Place.”
“That looks like, no, it can’t be…” Tahani said, her eyes wide with excitement.
“I can’t believe it either,” agreed Eleanor. “Michael told me every single celebrity ended up in ‘The Bad Place’.”
“But Jundy Barundi isn’t a celebrity,” Jason protested. “He’s my landlord! Though maybe Jundy became famous after I died for selling those photos he took of Blake Bortles doing whippits with Carrot Top outside the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville.”
“That man is not Jundy Barundi,” Chidi informed Jason. “That’s…”
“Welcome!” the bespectacled man called out in a North English accent. “It’s so lovely to have visitors! I’ve been feeling like a nowhere man, sitting in my nowhere land, making all my nowhere plans for nobody. Come inside, why don’t you? You can lend me a hand!”
“But you’re not alone, Mr. Lennon,” Janet corrected him. She bit her tongue. “Your friend Mr. Harrison is supposed to be keeping you company.”
John rolled his eyes and sighed irritably. “Yeah, maybe you can tell that to George when you come inside, Janet. All he ever wants to do is meditate.”
Chidi looked back and forth between John Lennon and Janet, then brought his hands to his abdomen and started shaking. “I did not expect this. Janet said there was only one other place besides the Good Place and the Bad Place – the Medium Place. And that the only person living there was named Mindy St. Claire. But now I see there are more places, each with their own inherent complexities!”
Janet frowned at Chidi. “I was telling you the truth. This isn’t a place. This is Nowhere Land. It exists outside the realm of rational thought, and it’s where the Judge decided to send John Lennon after he was murdered.”
John smirked at Janet and started to sing:
“There’s a place where I can go
When I feel low – when I feel blue –
And it’s my mind! And there’s no time!”
Janet smirked back at John, then resumed her usual blank-faced expression. “During his years on Earth, John Lennon defied the normal constraints of human existence. He took drugs, drank like a fish, swore like a sailor, failed to control his temper, and generally acted like a jerk, yet he wrote beautiful songs that inspired the entire world to value love and peace above all things. He complained that he and his bandmates had become bigger than God, and wrote a song asking people to imagine there was no heaven or hell. But since his death, the general public started treating him even more like a God. Sunday morning Beatles Brunch radio shows have taken the place of church services in much of the Western World. So the Judge set aside a special place for John, where the point system doesn’t apply.”
She turned to Chidi, Eleanor, Tahani and Jason and continued to smile. “His bandmate George Harrison was sent here as well after his death. George’s singular mix of religiosity and materialism also defied the standard code of conduct. He raised millions of dollars to help starving children in Bangladesh, but then used a large part of his personal fortune to produce an irreverent movie entitled ‘The Life of Brian.’ The Judge screens it every few months, between binge-watching the various incarnations of CSI. But she still hasn’t figured out if the message of the film is pro-God or anti-God.”
John rolled his eyes at Janet. “That judge of yours is as daft as the goddamned record-buying public down on earth! She overthinks everything, just like the music critics always do. You lot all need to start living in the moment more. Otherwise, instant karma is gonna get you!”
Chidi turned to John. “Could you clarify that thought please? Are you suggesting that the model of ethical hedonism which Epicurus proposed at the turn of the third century BCE was the ideal to which humanity should aspire? Or are you referring more to the theory of existentialism, first expressed by Søren Kierkegaard, then more fully developed by Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Satre?”
John narrowed his eyes at Chidi for a long moment, then laughed. “Hell, I dunno. It’s all cool, I suppose. Whatever gets you through the night is alright. C’mon inside, and I’ll get you some tea.”
The five guests followed John into the mansion.
“Hey, Harrisong!” John shouted as soon as he stepped inside his grand foyer. “Get off your bleedin’ prayer mat and come say hello to our guests!”
Jason looked to the side and saw a long-haired, mustachioed man sitting cross-legged in the corner of the mansion’s enormous front sitting room, his eyes closed and his hands opened on top of his folded knees. “Hey, that dude looks just like me, when I’m playing Jianyu, only more sincere! Maybe I should sit beside him for a bit and pick up some pointers.”
Tahani turned her head and examined the interior of the mansion. “I love what you’ve done with the place, John. I can call you John, can’t I? My name is Tahani, by the way. If you don’t mind my making a suggestion, however, you might want to consider hanging your Warhol portraits a little closer to your Dali painting to create an artistic focal point to this room, from which you can radiate your self-penned drawings in an easterly direction to enhance the feng shui of this space.”
“Right, I’m on it,” John said disinterestedly. “The kitchen’s this way.” He looked over his shoulder at George as he walked into the next room. “I said join us, you wanker!” he shouted. “You’re being rude!”
George slowly opened his eyes, and offered Eleanor a beatific smile. “While I was meditating, a vision came upon me of a beautiful blonde goddess. Then I opened my eyes, and I saw you!”
He stood up from his mat and started singing as he approached Eleanor:
“Not a thing did I have
Not a thing did I see
Till I called on your love
And your love came to me!”
“Wow, that’s a pick-up line I’ve never heard before,” replied Eleanor. “If you had met me back in Arizona, you’d have definitely gotten to second base with that song. Maybe even third. But I’m with Chidi now. We’re soulmates.”
George shrugged in defeat and shook Chidi’s hand. “Well, lucky you, mate. Though I personally don’t believe in the concept of soul mates. Each of our souls is unique and individual, and as we pass through one life into the next, our souls gain wisdom and purpose. But we constantly meet new people, depending on where we are living at each point in history. So our souls can’t be mated. That would tie each soul down, and keep it from moving on to its next level.”
“There’s no such thing as bloody reincarnation!” John shouted to George from the next room. “Otherwise you’d be in Japan now, not here in fuckin’ Nowhere Land with me! Now get your arse in the kitchen and help me get the tea ready for our guests!”
Tahani stepped closer to George. “You’d be in Japan now?” she repeated.
George looked Tahani up and down, then smiled at her gamely. “Right. You see, two days after I died, Princess Aiko was born into the Japanese Royal family, and by all rights, my soul should have passed into her body. Hear me out – I’ve meditated on this notion for a long time now. The only way my soul could have moved up from my experience of being one of the bloody Beatles is to be born into royalty. But I ended up here instead! I’m shacking up with John again, just like when we were teenagers playing the bars in fucking Hamburg and sleeping in bunk beds in the back of a filthy cinema. I ask you, how is this even possible?”
Tahani threw a quick glance around the interior of the magnificent mansion, then looked back at George. “Well, at least your new home is much nicer than the back of a filthy German cinema, I dare say. There are quite a few lovely architectural features here – the wainscoting, the arched windows, the parquet floors, the…”
Chidi cut her off. “Perhaps John is right, George, and there is no such thing as reincarnation. I’ve always found the concept of an endless cycle of death and rebirth quite problematic myself.”
“There’ll come a time when most of us return here,” George insisted. “Brought back by our desire to be – a perfect entity!”
John stepped back into the foyer, pushing a trolley cart laden with the all the makings of a British High Tea. “Here, George. Make yourself useful and push this into the dining room, why don’t you?”
George sighed in frustration and offered Chidi a sad smile. “I won’t upset the apple cart. I only want what I can get.” Then he sneered at John, grabbed the cart by its handles, and pushed it into an octagonal alcove set off to the side of the mansion, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking an enormous garden. He gestured for everyone to sit down at the round table in the middle of the sunlit room, then turned towards John. “Shall I play mother, or should you?”
“Oh, I will, if you don’t mind!” Tahani squealed. She lifted the tall teapot off the top of the cart and admired it. “Ooh, this is such a lovely silver service! And those scones look just scrumptious! Did you bake them yourself, John?”
“No, I have a Janet who does my cooking for me,” John answered. He called into the kitchen, “Hey, love, come on out and meet your counterpart!” Then he sat down at the table and passed around a plate of jam-butties while Tahani poured tea into seven china cups.
A woman with long, blonde, frizzy hair and a face that looked just like Janet’s stepped into the dining area. She wore a crocheted vest over a tie-dyed blouse. A pair of low-slung bell-bottom jeans hung loosely from her hips. A hand-knotted crown of daisies adorned her head.
“Hey, babe, how you doin’?” she asked Janet, tucking a loose lock of hair behind her ear.
Janet inspected her. “I am not familiar with your prototype, Janet. Are you a Good Janet, or a Bad Janet?”
“I’m a Nowhere Janet,” the hippie-clad woman replied. “I was created to look after John in this mansion, but then George moved in. So it’s been a bit awkward lately.”
“Are you saying that you and John are…?” Jason began.
“Soulmates, yeah,” John laughed. He wrapped his arms around Nowhere Janet’s waist and pulled her onto his lap. “She’s everything I ever wanted in a woman.”
“But I thought you were soul mates with Yoko Ono,” Tahani challenged.
John shrugged. “Well, I was, but I’m here now and she’s not. So there you have it.”
Eleanor flashed a sympathetic look at George. “This must be awkward for you.”
“Tell me about it,” George sighed. “That’s why I’m trying to figure out how to get back to Earth in a new reincarnated body. This mansion might look big to you, but it’s rather crowded.”
Good Janet turned towards George. “I’m so sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in Nowhere Land, Mr. Harrison. Perhaps I could put in a word for you with the higher-ups when I return to the Good Place, and see if we can’t work out a better arrangement for you.”
“That’d be great,” said George. He filled his plate with jam-butties, then turned towards Nowhere Janet. “Why don’t you ever make me naan with hummus, like I ask you to?”
Nowhere Janet kept her eyes focused on John and ran her finger over his chin while she addressed George. “There’s some hummus in the ice box. Go get it yourself.”
Jason gazed longingly at John and Nowhere Janet. “So you two, I mean, the two of you, you can do the, I mean, you can really…”
John turned towards Jason and smiled. “You’ve got that right, lad. Nowhere Janet is really somewhere, if you know what I mean.”
Eleanor turned towards Good Janet and frowned. “I thought you said you were taking us someplace which was neither good nor bad, where we could live for eternity in peace. But it looks like there’s no room for us here.”
“I was trying to take you to the Medium Place,” insisted Good Janet. “But I must have programmed the GPS wrong on the train. I can’t imagine how I could have made such a mistake.”
“I can,” said Jason. He took Good Janet’s hand in his. “I know you’ve been kind of confused lately.”
A look of revelation dawned on Chidi’s face. “I think Jason might actually be right. I suspect that the part of Good Janet’s central processing unit that has been trying to figure out how she and Jason could become, um, well, more intimate in their affections, subconsciously sought out Nowhere Janet, so that she could offer some advice.”
Good Janet nodded at Chidi. “That is an interesting proposal. But to do that, I would have to actually have a subconscious. And to have a subconscious, I would have to have a human brain. But I am not a human.”
“You’re one-hundred-percent woman, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jason. “No, you’re twice that. You’re five-hundred-percent woman!”
Good Janet looked back at Jason and squeezed his hand. “Perhaps we could have another mathematics lesson sometime, when we have a moment alone.”
“Ooh, ooh,” Jason replied. “I love it when we play teacher and student.”
George rolled his eyes, then looked at Tahani. “So what are you doing here? Are you a nowhere girl too? Or are you trying to escape from the Bad Place?”
Tahani fluttered her eyelashes at him. “Oh, I certainly don’t belong in the Bad Place. You see, there was a terrible mistake made somehow by someone, and I was sent someplace where I wasn’t supposed to be. So I’m hoping to go to…”
“The Medium Place,” Eleanor interrupted. “We all want to go to the Medium Place, and live with Mindy St. Claire. So perhaps, Janet, if you’d be so kind, you could lead us back to the train and reprogram it properly this time?”
“Mindy St. Claire?” George exclaimed. “Why the hell would you lot want to live with that bitch? All she ever wants to do is snort cocaine and drink warm beer. And the only records on her fucking jukebox are by the bloody Eagles! I tried living with her for a few years, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of waking up to another Tequila Sunrise without an actual cocktail to drink. So I moved back in with John and Nowhere Janet. At least I can garden here by myself, without Mindy pestering me about where she wants to plant her begonias and radishes…”
Jason’s face fell. “You mean there’s no rap or hip-hop music in the Medium Place?” he asked Good Janet. “You expect me to spend eternity listening to a band of white homeys that broke up in 1980?”
“The Eagles got back together again in 1994,” Eleanor pointed out.
“But they didn’t release a new studio album until 2007,” Jason retorted. “And that record sucked.”
“Hey, don’t you go insulting Joe Walsh’s discography!” shouted a small voice at the far end of the room.
Everyone turned their heads to the source of the voice. An eighteen-inch-tall man wearing an old-fashioned train conductor outfit stepped into the dining room and wagged his tiny finger at Jason.
“Joe Walsh is a genius!” shouted the little man. “I won’t just stand by and listen to a third-rate deejay like you pass judgment on him. Why, Joe is…”
“Put a sock in it, would you, Ritchie?” John called down to the uninvited guest.
The small man looked up at John and frowned. “I’ve told you time and time again, Mr. Lennon, my name is not Ritchie. It is ‘Mr. Conductor’! And I am the…”
“He’s the GPS unit for the Trans Eternal Railway,” Good Janet interrupted.
John scowled at her. “What the bloody hell is a GPS unit?”
Good Janet offered him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry. You died before they came into common use.”
George turned towards Good Janet. “If this little man is a GPS unit, then why does he look just like John’s and my old drummer Richard Starkey?”
“Because we used your drummer’s image,” Good Janet replied. “After the Reverend Wilbert Awdry died in 1998, the architects put him in charge of redesigning our train system.” She turned towards Jason and patted his hand. “Wilbert was the man who wrote the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ stories. He loved trains. And the Big Guy upstairs really liked those books, so he assigned Wilbert to be in charge of the Trans Eternal Railway. Wilbert fashioned the GPS unit after the character ‘Mr. Conductor’ from the first season of the television show “Shining Time Station,” who, of course, was played by Ringo Starr.”
“Oh,” said Jason, nodding his head. “That makes a lot of sense.”
“No it doesn’t,” countered John. “It’s a bloody daft idea, like everything else is in this place!” He turned towards Nowhere Janet and smiled. “Except for you, love. You’re wonderful.”
Nowhere Janet wrapped her arms around John’s neck and started kissing him passionately.
“Well, do you want me to take you to Mindy St. Claire’s house or not?” shouted Mr. Conductor. “I haven’t got all day, you know!”
Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason exchanged nervous looks.
“I don’t know, do you think we should?” asked Chidi. “I can’t decide!”
Eleanor shrugged. “I could go either way. I like how John and George can swear in this place. But I really like warm beer and the Eagles too.”
Tahani threw a fond look at George. “I could be persuaded to stay here, I think.”
Jason watched Nowhere Janet and John grapple each other like wrestlers. “I wouldn’t mind staying here for a while too. Maybe that pair could teach Good Janet and me how to seal the deal.”
“Not bloody likely,” groused George. “They only care about each other. It’s pretty irritating having to be around them.” He took Tahani’s hand in his and shrugged. “To think I once complained about John putting a bed in the Abbey Road studio so that Yoko could lie there while we were working on our record. At least the two of them kept their boundaries and didn’t just fuck in front of everyone.”
“Fine!” shouted Mr. Conductor. “I’m leaving!” He turned and stomped out of the dining room.
Chidi clenched his stomach. “Oh gosh. Maybe we should go with him after all. I mean, we weren’t supposed to go to Nowhere Land. We were supposed to go to the Medium Place.”
“We were supposed to go to the Bad Place, but we got sent to a Good Place that isn’t very good!” retorted Eleanor. “We don’t belong in any of these places.”
George looked beseechingly at Good Janet. “Couldn’t you pull some strings and send the group of us back to Earth as reincarnated beings? Please?”
Janet thought for a moment, then smiled. “I might be able to do that. But not from here. My powers don’t work in Nowhere Land. Only in the Good Place.”
Tahani nodded. “So we should get back on the train then, shouldn’t we?”
Good Janet smiled at her. “You four should. But not Mr. Harrison. The Judge wouldn’t like it if he left.”
George released Tahani’s hand. “Fine. I’ll just go putter in my garden for a couple of weeks then, and wait for these two lovebirds to acknowledge me again.” He stood up from the table and left the room.
“A couple of weeks?!” Jason exclaimed, his eyes aglow with excitement. “That Janet can have sex with a human for weeks at a time?”
Good Janet ran her fingers through Jason’s hair. “Nowhere Janet will be too pre-occupied to speak to me while she’s busy with John. Let’s go back home and see if I can’t work out a better solution for us.”
Jason shrugged, then stood up from the table. “Okay. But do you think I could take George Harrison’s prayer mat with me? It looks a lot more comfortable than the one I’ve been using.”
“Stealing will lose you points,” Chidi reminded him.
“Oh, you,” Eleanor said. She gave Chidi a quick kiss, then winked at Jason. “Go ahead and take it. Then maybe if Janet figures out a way to send us back to earth, you can sell it on eBay and make a fortune.”
“Good idea,” said Jason. He ran off to fetch the mat.
Tahani, Eleanor, Chidi and Janet followed after him. Tahani threw a quick glance at the hand-drawn doodles John had hung on his wall, then broke away from her friends and grabbed two of them. “He won’t notice that these are gone,” she insisted. “And he can always draw new ones if he wants. But back on earth, these will be priceless!”
Eleanor squeezed Chidi’s hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be good. I won’t steal anything from here.”
Chidi kissed her cheek, then led her out of the mansion and back to the train.
“All aboard!” shouted Mr. Conductor. He waved goodbye to his passengers, then slipped into a small box inside the control panel. Good Janet started programming the coordinates into the train to take the party of four to their next destination.
Eleanor looked up into Chidi’s eyes. “Do you suppose anyone else has a home of their own in the afterlife? Besides John Lennon, George Harrison and Mindy St. Claire?”
“I don’t know,” Chidi replied. “I only know this, Eleanor. Wherever I end up for all of eternity, I want to end up there with you.”
* * *
Based on the television series “The Good Place,” which ran on NBC from 2016 to 2020.