“Wow, this is a long line,” Andrew said.
“Yeah,” said the man in front of him, “there was a train accident in Copenhagen, a cruise ship went down in the Pacific and a hurricane ripped through the Caribbean. It might be a while.”
“Oh,” Andrew said. He reached up to scratch his head, but stopped halfway. His hand… was not the old and withered one he’d seen in the hospital. It was sleek and supple like in his youth. And the top of his head? The hair he had lost to chemo and old age had returned, and he suddenly realized that the constant pain in his right leg had vanished.
“Where are we?” he asked the man in front of him. Everything seemed new yet familiar, like entering a recurring dream that slipped away each time you woke up.
“It’s not obvious?” the man asked.
Andrew looked around at the firm, fluffy clouds around him, then along the serpentine curves of the line to the pearly gates, and then to the angels that stood on each side of the gate like bouncers outside a holy nightclub. Finally, slower than it should have, it dawned on him.
“We’re waiting to get into heaven,” Andrew said. He half expected the man in front of him to gasp.
“Something like that,” the man said. “I hear the afterlife is something of what you make it; what you always asked for in life.”
Andrew smiled. His eyes fell upon the mansions sitting sleepily on a faraway hill. “Thank you, Lord,” he prayed to himself.
His eyes traveled down the long line again. “You’d think He would have streamlined the process by now,” he said.
The man in front of him chuckled. “I’m George,” the man said and extended his hand.
Andrew shook George’s hand. “Andrew,” he said. “Cancer.”
“Cancer,” Andrew said again. “I died of cancer. I actually died in prayer. Can you believe that? ‘Dear Lord-‘ and zip-bam-boom I’m here.”
“Wow, that’s something,” George said.
“You die in prayer?”
“Well… I did, but I’m sure just about anyone in my situation would have.”
Andrew raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, I was in a car accident…” George said. “Went right off a bridge.”
“I hope it wasn’t suicide,” Andrew said.
“Oh no, no. I… My brakes went out.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t so fun…”
“Been walking with Jesus long?”
“Walking? Ummm… No, I can’t say that I have…”
“You might not like what you hear from St. Peter then.”
“Uh, yeah…” George said. “I wouldn’t be waiting here, but…” He laughed nervously. “There’s nowhere else to go.”
“Good luck,” Andrew said.
Andrew tried striking up a conversation with the man behind him, but the man’s African accent was so thick, talking to him made Andrew tired.
They waited in line for what seemed like days.
“I don’t know if I can take much more of this line,” Andrew said.
“But Heaven’ll be worth the wait, right?” George asked.
Andrew’s eyes fell on the mansion-speckled hill once more. “Yes,” he replied, “but this feels like my personal hell.”
“Cheer up, there’s only about two thousand more in front of us.”
They passed most of the rest of the wait in silence, save the spotting of some celebrity or old acquaintance.
Finally, St. Peter called George’s name:
“George Stanley Smith.”
George stepped forward but did not speak. His torso rocked back and forth and his hands clutched each other in front of him.
St. Peter unrolled a long scroll and began to read.
“Age: 55 years 5 months 23 days
Main Occupation: CEO Ventala Corporation
“Acts of deception: 114,764
Acts of negligence: 6,852
Acts of adultery: 212
Acts of fraud: 116
Acts of embezzlement: 87
Acts of negligence resulting in death: 14
Acts of intention resulting in death: 47
“George Stanley Smith, you stand accused of many heinous crimes and lived your life without remorse or repentance. The prescription drugs you made caused sickness, blindness, and death and you did not stop them. You knew that these drugs were not safe, that they weren’t ready for human trials and yet you pushed them forward. You defrauded the weak and allowed your company’s products to continue to be sold despite legitimate safety concerns. When things went badly, you covered it up and framed your employees. Your wickedness finally caught up with you when one of those you framed disabled your brakes, sending you off the bridge. In all my years of guarding this gate I have seen few who cared less for the well-being of others.
“One might ask how on Earth you expect to get through these gates.”
George wept bitterly. A pitiful, despairing wail left his lips and he dropped into a heap on the cloudy floor.
“Stop,” Andrew whispered to him. “That won’t work here. You’re just going to embarrass yourself.”
After what seemed an eternity, George composed himself enough to answer. “I don’t know, Sir,” George said. “I… I… I apologize for wasting your time, Sir.” He turned and walked away.
“Though it be terrible at times. Thank you, Lord, for justice,” Andrew prayed to himself.
“Wait,” St. Peter called to George.
When George did not turn, St. Peter signaled an angel to catch him.
The angel stopped him, but gently. Without manhandling or otherwise abusing the wretch he turned him around and brought him back to St. Peter.
“George Stanley Smith, in your final minutes you called on the name of Jesus, did you not?”
“With all my heart I did, Sir. It may not mean a hill of beans given what I’ve done, but I did.”
Silence fell over the whole assembly as they awaited his judgment.
“Well, my brother,” St. Peter said. His face broke into a wide smile. “His grace is sufficient for you.
“Come. Join the Savior at the wedding feast.”
With that the pearly gates opened and George Stanley Smith, who had raped the earth and snubbed his nose at God and man, who had loved nothing but money all his life until the end, walked through into eternity.
Andrew clenched his fist, but before he could say much more St. Peter called his name.
(to be continued)