The place: Heaven. Fluffy clouds and eternal sourceless sunshine — er, godshine.
The intent: Applying imagination to some of the beliefs Christians hold (or held) about Heaven.
The characters: A trio of angels — Puriel, Zadkiel and Gaghiel — leaning against a cloud-wall, eating cones of ice cream that never melt on their own.
Puriel, a tall one with eyes of fire and a cone of vanilla, speaks.
Puriel: So, any new rumors on the time and date of It?
The other two shrug. Zadkiel, a sad-eyed form with long white hair and a grand nougat whirl cone, smiles and sighs.
Zadkiel: Only It knows the timing of It.
Puriel: Enough with that correctness of yours! Only He knows the timing and moment of It, the End of Men.
Zadkiel: As you wish. You haven’t kept up with the culture down there, in the societies of the humankind, huh?
Puriel: Why bother? A century, a millennium, an eyeblink, and they’re gone. Why bother?
Zadkiel: Well, they’re going to be up here with us for an eternity, right?
Puriel: Piffle. Those flesh-beings can’t number much over a million millions, over their entire span of existence, and over all of them, the up-coming and the down-going, all in all. A speck of sand in the beach of spirits that laps around His ankles. And anyway, their manners down there don’t matter because they must act here like it’s written in that Book of theirs, they and their women and other slaves.
Zadkiel: Well, it’s only common courtesy —
Puriel: And they’re changing, changing all the time! I can’t keep up with that quicksand grain at all. Yesterday they went around dressed in pots and pans, bowing to men with hats of gold, and today they cover themselves with crinkly plastic and bow mainly to their own navels. And all the time so sure that their personal worship is the only right way. They’re irritating little creeps.
Zadkiel: Sometimes I wonder why He put you into the welcoming party. You’d sour even a saint.
Puriel: Hah, right. Nothing sours a saint. Except finding his most hated heresiarch here as well. But say, Gaghiel, where’s that tubby little man Marcion these days?
Gaghiel, who has been quiet up to now, starts and blinks. He is a head shorter than the two others, balding, and of the worrying kind. If it was allowed in Heaven, he would be smoking instead of eating ice cream. (Smoking, along with burning, is strictly a province of the Other Place.)
Gaghiel: Uh, um, Marcion? Somewhere in the Suburb of the Son. He’s found a couple of us that are willing to build a temple with him. They’re at somewhere around five million floors or so.
Puriel: Five million — for the love of Him, why?
Gaghiel smiles faintly.
Gaghiel: The usual. He heard that Arius is building the tallest of all temples to the glory of Him alone — your know, that ghastly pile of pink marble atop the Hill of the Father?
Puriel winces. He doesn’t really like humans, and he likes their ‘architecture’ even less.
Gaghiel: And since they both have their followers, and those of us with nothing better to do, they’re going to build and build, probably forever, a race without end.
Puriel: Aaargh. I wish He’d tell them to quit, but no! Never going to happen. Would dampen the spirits of the faithful, He says, interfere with their inalienable right to worship Him for a time without end.
Zadkiel smiles sadly.
Zadkiel: Well, you have to leave them something. It’s a bit of a letdown to end up here and notice that you have to face eternity with never a smoke, never a drop of drink, and never a herb or powder to ease your mind. No marriage, either, no carnal knowledge of self or others, no books, no surprises — some of the new arrivals have been quite shaken, lately.
Puriel: Hah! As if anyone’d choose a smoking Hell over a non-smoking Heaven!
Zadkiel: You’d be surprised what some of them do after a century or so.
Puriel: You’re kidding.
Zadkiel: Wish I was. I talked to Jegudiel a while ago; he’s making guardrails for the Spectators’ Balcony. Too many ex-smokers jumping down to There at the first whiff of brimstone: usually when they drive their flames a bit higher and give televangelists their annual futile chance at running for Heaven. And of course those black-winged cousins of ours smoke; at least those that work at the Pit of Non-Smoker Sinners. The temptation’s too much for some of our humans.
Puriel: What a disgrace. I say they should all be zapped out of their wants upon arrival, whether they want it or not. None of this ‘Okay, mind alteration or eternal futile want?’ nonsense. Just give everyone a shot of the Good Old Righteous Headfixer, and they’d be as nice and docile as, um, as lambs.
Zadkiel: That’s a terrible place, that Balcony. I’ve always been against it.
Puriel: Sod you. I don’t care; I only work in here. I don’t care if they get to watch the screams and jolts of those that didn’t make it here; if that’s entertainment for them, fine by me. And what else are they going to do without their tournaments and minstrels?
Zadkiel: You really haven’t kept up, huh? Televisions and computers would be a better choice of words.
Puriel: Whatever it is that they’re used to. I’d much rather have them all in one place watching something, eyes gleaming and mouths drooling, than wandering here and there abusing harps.
Zadkiel: Well, we can’t go playing with their minds like that, shoving a musical skill into —
Puriel: We should. Have you no ears?
Gaghiel: Calm now.
Puriel: And you, Gaghiel. Aren’t you a bit miffed, huh, that they’ve put you as a whale-monster into one of their — what was it? — computer shows.
Zadkiel: Television shows.
Gaghiel: Uh, I don’t care. It’s fame, isn’t it?
Puriel: What, a pseudonymous sawtooth whale blown apart by swallowing a fleet of battleships is fame? You’re a sad case, fish-boy.
Gaghiel: Well, excuse me if I can’t be some wingaling with eyes of fire and a burning sword, but we bureaucrats are extremely necessary for the smooth upkeep of public order, too!
Zadkiel coughs, rather loudly.
Zadkiel: Anyway! The weather’s been nice lately, right?
Puriel: (frosty) The weather’s always good up here. This is Heaven, remember?
Zadkiel: I mean, Gaghiel, aren’t you working at one of the Incoming Booths now?
Gaghiel: Indeed. Right near him (he glares at Puriel), trying to communicate with new arrivals after he‘s scared them senseless.
Puriel flicks his wrist, pulling a new cone out of thin air, and concentrates on it, ignoring Gaghiel’s comments.
Gaghiel: It’s not a nice job, but someone’s got to do it. Unless, of course, if someone’d take a bit of time and think about it. I’m relatively certain that, in principle, most of the Incoming Queries could be at least partly automated. Either some of this new electromagnetic digitalry that’s so talked about these days, or then a giant mechanical abacus-filing-system, with cards of all the previous entrants and, uh, the non-entrants.
Zadkiel: It’s always the same question, right?
Gaghiel: Yes. First they’re dancing around and constantly falling on their knees — or they’re already on their knees because someone‘s been a bit too assertive with the whole Book of Names and Judging Gazes routine. Do you know how much trouble we could save by apparating them here with kneepads and diapers? Just to prevent them from making an embarrassing entrance. That is, they mostly aren’t prepared for seeing a giant with eyes of fire, right?
Puriel’s not listening.
Gaghiel: They more often, um, expect to find someone laughing, or a summer’s day. Anyway, after that it’s the same litany, and the same tired answers. Yes, Heaven, Yes, really, Heaven. Yes, really really Heaven, grown-up really, okay? If someone asks that more than three times I give them a brochure and send them to the back of the queue. Hopefully they’re willing to listen the second time around. And after that come the inevitable personal questions.
Zadkiel: Yes, I see how a searchable database would be good for those.
Gaghiel: Exactly. ‘Is my mum here? How about my dadda? And how about Spots?’, and so on, the entire family back to the fifth generation, and every deceased friend and public figure. By the way, I hear that Nuriel’s compiling a brochure on those of their more famous figures that are up here.
Gaghiel: They’re always asking about that man called, hum, the King.
Puriel: (gruffly) What, King Stephen?
Zadkiel: What, Stephen King?
Gaghiel: No, not those. That singer, Elvisiel or whatever his name was. So anyway, Nuriel feels that he’d be able to achieve a seventy-percent answer coverage in more than sixty-five percent of individual personnages, which would ease the redundant workload considerably. No more of this “Jerry who? I’ll go check” routine.
Gaghiel wipes his sweet-smelling brow and continues.
Gaghiel: Still, that won’t help the personal queries. Some kind of an automated system would. And those outbursts! Why, they should understand that their personal getting here doesn’t guarantee any father getting here too. I’m really tired of those tantrums. I mean, what can we do? It’s not like we can let just anyone in.
Zadkiel: We —
Gaghiel: We have to keep a certain standard, you understand. Can’t go around changing rules and creating special cases and precedents. There are always those that say we should let everyone in but, hey, what about retroactivity? You can’t just go down There, apologize loudly, and tell them all to move upwards, out of the flames. Can’t get them to relax after That without two or three runs through the Headfixer — and even then they’d wonder why they have no memory of the past six aeons at all, just an odd fear of hot dogs.
Puriel: They’d never notice the Fixing, would they? They’d be happy, and a lot more quiet besides. And they’d know how to play a harp from the get-go.
Gaghiel: But no! Always the permission first. They’d be a lot happier if they didn’t know what they wanted before getting here —
Zadkiel smiles sadly: it’s a troubling subject, but at least his two companions aren’t arguing anymore. Somewhere far above, a vast all-seeing eye watches all, hears all, understands all, and remains untroubled.
* * *
In case you were offended by this theological speculation, here is an alternative to soothe your feelings.
It was a pleasant day in Heaven, and the gigantic form of the Lord, the silent and loving radiant heavenly sun, illuminated everything with its pink glow.
Slowly and with infinite care and delicacy, a man rose up through the clouds until his feet rested on the cloud-firmament, a shroud-like white cape covering his nakedness. He looked around, smiling. “This must be Heaven”, he said.
From the distance there staggered another man — an old man with wild hair and staring eyes. He fell to his knees at the newcomer’s feet and gasped. “Thank God! Thank God!”
The newcomer smiled. “Yes. That I did.”
The old man sobbed in joy. “Two thousand years!”
“Who are you?”, the newcomer asked.
“I — I am Paul. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.”
The newcomer was amazed. “Saint Paul! It is a great honor to meet such a — such a saint!”
Paul pulled at his hair and cried. “Honor! Speak nothing of it; I’ve been here all alone for two thousand years because the entry requirements are too tight!”
* * *
And of course there is never a second without a third —
“What’s he doing in here?” Mark whispered.
Cynthia shrugged. “Hey, it’s salvation if you die a believer, no matter what crimes you committed. Quite many repent at the last instant.”
Without being bothered by this whispering, Jeffrey Dahmer dealt the cards and winked at his new German pal Adolf.