by Arthur Carey
My eyes fluttered open. White… all white. The ceiling, the walls, the…
“About time,” Sedgewick grunted. He reclined in a scuffed lounger, also white.
“Where am I?” I asked. I remembered the car veering off the ice-slicked road, flipping upside down in the air, and…
“Way Station,” he replied, “the temporal transfer point”
“Then I must be…”
“Bulls-eye,” he added with a sneer.
I recalled I didn’t like Sedgewick. He was the nosey company guard who pawed through your belongings as you left work to make sure you hadn’t pilfered any office supplies.
We both wore white robes. Mine had fallen open at the front. I started to draw the cord tighter and stopped. “I seem to have lost my sexual apparatus.”
He laughed. “You won’t need it here.”
“Well, it was nice of you to drop by to welcome me.”
“Like I had a choice,” he grumbled. “Rules are, someone who knows you has to be here to meet a new arrival. I got stuck.”
Panels slid open and a wall of sound engulfed us. We stepped out onto a monochromatic gray plain. People were everywhere, all garbed in white robes. They wandered about like tourists hunting for bargains at an open-air market.
“Most are looking for friends or relatives,” Sedgewick explained. “It’s crowded because there are seven billion people on earth.”
I looked about in dismay. “This isn’t Heaven, is it? I expected to go to Heaven. This looks more like He—”
“Stop!” Sedgewick cried, aghast. “We don’t use that word. We refer to The Other Place.”
“Oh, you’ll go to Heaven,” he snickered as if he knew something I didn’t.
He handed me a wristband. “Put this on. When it vibrates, it’ll point you to the Celestial Transporter.”
He turned, jostled aside a young boy who appeared lost and was crying, and vanished. I was alone in the teeming crowd.
“Esequial!... Martin!... Mohammed!... Yusuru!… Olga!...” Plaintive voices shouted names, a constant keening that never ceased.
The wristband vibrated and a gleaming elevator materialized out of nowhere. I entered and the doors closed, opening again almost immediately.
An impatient black man waited. “Carmichael? Over here.” He waved me aboard an open-air tram bobbing up and down on soft explosions of air.
The man picked up a microphone. “Welcome to Heavenly Tours,” he said. “My name is Damian. I’m your guide.”
The engine purred, and the tram began moving smoothly, floating on an invisible cushion. We passed through an idyllic scene: air effused with the tang of pine scent, lush green grass, a riot of flowering dogwood, orange-lipped poppies, and purple lupine. Mist rose at the base of a magnificent waterfall.
“If this is a park, it’s beautiful,” I said to the man sitting next to me.
He looked startled. “What do you mean? We’re in a factory with a state-of-the art auto assembly line. They’re making self-driving cars with ion-charged engines.”
I heard a small boy exclaim, “It’s Mickey Mouse!”
Damian smiled. “Heaven is different for everyone.”
A huge gate wreathed in ornate gold leaf popped up on the right.
“We are passing the Elysian Fields,” Damian said. “It’s the most desired residential community. Mother Teresa is there, of course, with other saints and achievers. So is Otto Frederick Rohwedder, the man who invented sliced bread.”
Wonder followed wonder, each tailored, I decided, to the desires of viewers. For me there was a ride through the Tunnel of Apple Love. Models of historical computers lined the walls. The tunnel ended with a giant replica of Steve Jobs holding a beeping iPhone. He smiled and said “Goodbye, Andy… Goodbye, Andy… Good…”
“I’ll have to call maintenance again,” Damian said, shaking his head.
Our vehicle stopped overlooking a valley. Below, shrouded in puffy clouds, lay a magnificent castle adorned with delicate minarets and carved turrets. “We have come to the high point of our tour,” our guide said. “Behold the Heavenly Kingdom.”
“Is…” a woman began and fell silent.
“Yes,” Damian said. “In residence during the summer season.”
The faint sounds of ethereal music drifted upward.
“That’s the Divine Symphony,” our guide explained. “Never an off-key note. Arturo Toscanini is the conductor.”
We listened in silence until the last heavenly notes faded. “Well,” our guide said, “that concludes our tour. We’ll head back to the Celestial Transporter. I hope you have enjoyed your visit to Heaven.”
“That’s it?” objected a woman with white hair. “We don’t get to stay here? I gave a lot of blood to the Red Cross, and I was a Girl Scout leader, and—”
“Do you have any idea how much I donated to charity over the years?” demanded a sharp-faced man. “I could have spent that money on cruises and sporting events.”
Damian shrugged. “Heaven is too small to hold all the departed. Admission depends upon having done extraordinary good works or exhibiting spirituality at a level far, far above the norm.”
An unhappy murmur rippled through the bus—“…said we’d go to Heaven!”
“Well, yes… and you have,” Damian replied. “I’m only a day-tripper myself. It’s a perk for volunteers. But you can always enter the lottery since you failed selection in the initial screening. A few openings occur every millennium.”
“Well, at least it’s not The Other Place,” observed an obese man, red-faced as if he were a candidate for a heart attack and probably had been.
We returned to our starting point in silence and filed into the Celestial Transporter.
The doors opened again, and the tidal wave of sound “Shanki!...Katrien!... Juhamatti!...Victor!...” saturated the air.
I shouldered my way into the crush. Where should I start looking? My parents? The first girl I ever kissed? Certainly not Sedgewick. At least there was no hurry. I had all eternity to make up my mind.
published 24 September 2014