Actually on the Thursday this week! (Cause this is the post for October! Shocking!)
This week’s short is a brief start of something. I might expand it, I might not. Right now I don’t really have anymore ideas for it. My attempt at humor with the prompt: You die, and at the pearly gates you’re told that you can choose heaven or hell. You jokingly choose hell.
I die on a clear, Wednesday evening, with the sun blazing around the fireball of what was left of my car. But that’s not the point of this story. The exciting bit is what came next.
White lights, brief flash of pain, a sense of floating, and then I’m dressed in white, floating among the clouds, with a decidedly different body than the one I started with. No boobs, to start. Then comes the pearly gates and the dude in a bathrobe to decide your fate. John, or Paul, or maybe even Ringo, though everyone seems to forget about him. Hey, my raising was a long time ago, alright?
Dude looks bored, like I’m just another checkbox. Good start to my afterlife.
“Jason Mathew Kilgore, resident of Shiner, Texas, you have arrived at the gates. You must decide where you wish to reside until the coming Apocalypse, when you will fight on your chosen side till the destruction of the world.” This speech is delivered in such a flat tone that it takes a minute for the full meaning to sink in.
“Wait, what?” There’s too much to unpack. For one, Dude’s got my name right. Even my mom occasionally calls me Julia. Called? Hey, tense is weird right now.
“Please be advised, the side of heaven has been ordained to win, though the seeds of evil must be constantly guarded against.” Dude isn’t looking at me but at the paper in his hand. “Because of this, most souls who make it here choose to pass through the gates to enter into unity with the maker.”
I suppress a snort at the innuendo. “Unity?”
Bob (his name isn’t Bob, but what do?) glares at me but doesn’t change his tone. “I urge you to consider, deep within your conscience, where you truly belong. If your deeds upon the earth are enough for you to pass through these gates, or if you deserve to fall into everlasting torment.”
Here Bob pauses. He gives me a significant look. For a full minute, nothing happens. Then, suddenly, nothing happens.
“Oh! This is where I decide?”
Bob projects the feeling of having rolled his eyes hard enough that I roll my eyes in response.
“It’s different from advertising.”
Bob sighs and flips some pages to a colorful sheet. He reads, in the same flat tones, “Grats, dude, you’re dead. No, you can’t go back. Yes, this’s for realz. No more hearts. End game.”
He’s trying so hard. I want to pat him on his slightly glowing head.
“Now, you get to choose your own cutscene. Good place or bad place, where will you go?”
Bob looks from his papers with raised eyebrows.
“You have to admit, this isn’t what your grade A standard Christan is going to expect, coming at this from a lifetime on Earth.”
Bob blinks, like he’s never had anyone question him before. “You need me to explain the choices?”
I’m shaking my head before he’s even finished stumbling his way through the question. “No, no. Heaven, hell, very clear on that. I’m more wondering about the basic ideas you’ve got going on here. First off…”
And here I trail off. Because there are a lot of firsts happening here. This morning I was headed off to work, rather uninspired button pushing. And then, as I was going home, there were the rabbits, and the deer, and the eighteen wheeler. Let’s start with the most basic of basics.
“I’m a guy?”
Bob fumbles at his clipboard, looking confused. “You are Jason Mathew Kilgore, yes?”
I wave my hands. “No, no. That’s my name. Had it for five years. We’re good there. It’s the mechanics of the body I’m questioning. The, um, tubing, if you will.”
I shift, and yes, definitely some extra tubing down there.
Bob’s face clears. “You have left your body on the physical plane. What’s left is how you picture yourself. We’ve found that clarifies a lot of confusion, in the end.”
“Seriously? You got a mirror?”
“Vanity is a sin.”
“Yeah, but dude, you got a mirror?”
Bob sighs, but one of the poles on the gates shifts, broadening and flattening until it’s the size of a hall mirror. It’s one of those annoying ones, that hang in every changing room in every department store ever. The kind that never shows you the full outfit, so that you have to go home before you realize that the unreturnable thing you bought actually makes you look like a charmed hippopotamus.
I run like a madman over to the gate. Bob follows me, and taps the gate when I get there. And there I am, as I have always thought of myself. The eye color, skin, hair, I don’t give a shit about. The stubble on my chin, the Adam’s apple on my throat. I have no chest for the first time since I was fourteen. I can hardly swallow. Bob allows me several moments to myself.
When I can tear myself away from the mirror, Bob is quietly shuffling around some papers at his podium, pulpit thing. He hands me a cloth, and looks carefully away as I dry the wetness from my face. Not tears. We’re in a freakin cloud bank, there’s a lot of moisture going around. I’m surprised Bob’s bathrobe isn’t sticking to his legs, what with all the moisture—you know what, screw it. I am bawling, I knew it. Bob knew it. I’m tired of trying to fit into damn gendered expectations.
“I’m tired of trying to fit into damn gendered expectations,” I tell Bob, handing back his handkerchief. “Sex and gender was, like, the worst thing your Boss did to the species, I think.”
Bob just looks at me. “We do have a backlog forming. This portion of the proceedings doesn’t usually take too long.”
I nod again. “Right. I get to choose, after searching my soul, where I think I should go.”
“No wonder it doesn’t take long. You get many people choosing hell, do you?”
“Ever think there’s something wrong with that system?”
“We got complaints about the fairness of the previous system. Babies were going to hell.”
I dimly recall something about unbaptised infants and Greek scholars on one level of Dante’s hell. “Huh, didn’t think that was a thing.”
“Indeed. It was decided that freedom should be allowed.”
I have a sudden thought that heaven must be rather like an upper middle management meeting, complete with focus groups and directives with no grasp of reality.
Bob’s face is overcome with the shining conviction of a true believer. “The thinking was, with an angel staring down on the soul’s as they decide, that people would truly search their soul before giving the right answer.”
Bob doesn’t wring his hands in the same way he doesn’t roll his eyes. “Maybe I’m not doing such a good job? And the system’s going into review, you see, and I might get reassigned. And I really like this job. I meet such interesting people.”
“Would it help if I chose Hell?” I say it as a joke, but I see my mistake immediately.
“Oh, thank you!” He reaches out and places one finger on my forehead.
It burns as I fall. But I alight like a cat on the scorched ground. There’s a whole lotta color in Hell. But white on white on cream gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Here there’s orange, and yellow, and red. There’s also a dude in a bright blue suit, looking like he just stepped out of a movie set in the twenties. A musical, where the notion of “gangster” is an accent and a couple of harsh looks. He’s even got the hat.
“Oh, finally, a friend! You won’t believe how long I’ve had to wait!”