Your Afterlife is on Hold
You remember your last few minutes in the hospital with your family. You closed your eyes, took your last breath and died.
You wake up in line. You are wearing a white robe slippers.
You are standing on an endless white plain stretching to the horizon under a cloudless blue sky. In front of you is a queue of people, also dressed in white robes and slippers, stretching as far as the eye can see.
You are the last person in a very, very long line.
Then suddenly you aren’t. An elderly asian man appears out of nowhere behind you. He looks confused. Then a young African girl wearing a tiny robe appears behind him. Then more and more people appear out of nowhere, filling up the line behind you. The line behind you stretches off into the distance.
You ask the woman in front of you what is going on. She tells you to wait a moment, the person in front of her said the person in front of him said there will be an announcement.
Shortly — perhaps hours, perhaps days, you’re not sure — there is an announcement. An angel floats by and speaks with a voice that rumbles across the heavens.
The angel tells the masses that life is but a waiting queue for heaven. Everyone must wait to have their soul personally reviewed by God itself. In the meantime, they can go back and have another life — their place in line will be saved — or they can just wait here.
You don’t mind the waiting. It’s quite pleasant. There’s no sense of boredom or tiredness or even that time is passing. You know it is passing — the line moves forward. You realize you are on a gently inclining plain, and after a time — years or eons — you see mountains on the horizon. The group shuffles forward.
You’re not hungry, or cold or hot or sleepy. You don’t have to go to the bathroom and you don’t feel desires or urges. You’re just content as you wait.
People around sometimes grumble and complain. Some people seem bored and decide to go back for another life. They periodically disappear and then re-appear a time later — it could be minutes or it could be decades. You can’t really tell.
You notice that the people who usually stay seem… discontented. They grumble about how long it’s taking God to review every person. They complain about their crummy lives and how much better it is just to wait in a damn line. But then they gripe about how boring it is to wait in line. Some get frustrated, close their eyes and go back.
They still complain when they return to the queue.
They talk about leaving the line, but they don’t know what will happen if they do. So they shout at passing angels to try and get clarification. The angels just sail by, pretending not to hear. So they wait in line, scared to leave and lose their place.
A few do leave. They march determinedly off into the distance and are never seen again. The grumblers invent stories about harpies and holes in the clouds dropping them back to Earth, or worse.
The old man behind you likes to gripe about the youth and how the new generation is lacking morals, ethics, respect and all the values such complaining implies are inherent in his character. In his day things were better, even though they weren’t. Now they are shit, even though they are not. He gripes as every old man has done about the young since the first humans had grandchildren.
You listen and you wait. And you wait. And you wait. Ten lifetimes worth of waiting. A thousand.
The queue winds through forests and deserts. Up slopes and through dales. Across beaches and under jungle canopies. It’s all quite pleasant.
Eventually, the queue leads towards a high wall in the distance. It is a castle. The sense of anticipation grows and the people in the queue get more anxious. The returnees stop blinking out of line and wait somewhat impatiently. The grumblers smooth their robes and straighten their hair. The woman in front of you asks if there is anything in her teeth. You inspect and tell her no, even though she hasn’t eaten in eons.
Finally the queue winds its way through the castle gates, across the drawbridge and through the inner keep. A giant door with pearl inlays admits one person at a time.
Soon it is your turn. Horns blow, angels sing, the door opens and you step through.
Inside is a large empty room, where a round person of indeterminate gender, wearing white robes, sits in a plain wooden chair in front of a wide wooden desk. God looks up and waves you forward.
As you approach, you see God is surrounded by computers, books, tablets, manuscripts, scrolls, carvings and all manner of knowledge devices. They are collected in great piles behind God, mountains and mountains of data. God is unrolling a scroll with one hand while flipping through a transparent display with another hand. One eye focuses on each, and you feel a shiver up your spine.
As you arrive at the desk, God flips the tablet into a pile of tablets and stretches God-like fingers behind a shaved head.
“Ah, it’s you.”
“Yes, you. All the rest of them, they either got bored and went back for more life, or got cranky and started complaining. But you just waited. Why?”
“You mean in the queues?”
“No genius, I mean in the hot tub. You didn’t see it?”
“No.” You stammer a bit. “I mean, um, was there a hot tub?”
“No there’s no hot tub, idiot. Sheesh.” God rolls godly eyes at the galactic glow swirling around the ceiling.
“Thinks there’s a hot tub…” God mutters to itself.
“I mean the line,” God says, pointing toward the door with dramatic oblivion. “Why did you just wait patiently in the line?”
“Well, it was the thing to do,” you state simply. “And as queues go, it was quite nice. I didn’t need anything. I didn’t want anything. I just enjoyed the experience.”
“Hmph. Forty thousand years of doing this and no one has ever just waited patiently,” God says to no one in particular in a booming, lilting voice. “I tried giving people exactly what they wanted while they waited and there were damn ego riots. It was like Burning Man met World War Two out there. Hedonism and carnal urges all over the place. It took the angels ages to mop up.”
“So,” God continues. “I just made a blank space — purgatory if you will. It drove people batty. Humans can’t stand nothingness. Dogs do great…sleep all day…happy as can be. But people start swinging from imaginary branches and eating their toenails. Anxious bunch.”
“So I gave people peace, contentment and satisfaction — and a way to go back and live more lives if they got bored. Everyone either keeps going back, or they go back once in a while and gripe the rest of the time.”
“Except you,” God says, with the questioning authority of a billion galactic civilizations. “Why?”
You shrug. “I guess I just felt like it was the best thing that could be happening at the time.”
God leans back in the chair, takes the godlike chin in a godlike hand and ponders you. Gods eyes have the penetrating force of a billion watts of x-rays.
“I think this might just work.”
God rises, startling you a bit. God is a lot taller while standing — like a human-sized giant sequoia. God gestures to the wooden chair and waves you over.
“I’ve been needing to step out for a few, take a stretch and all that. Had to piss for eons. Would you mind sitting in for a bit?”
God sees your eyes go wide in hesitation.
“Oh come on,” God says, with the soothing persuasion of a thousand charming barristers. God takes you by the elbow and leads you to the chair with godly might.
“It’s easy,” God says. “People come in, you look them up on the scrolls and quantum lace and notes and such and tell them what you think.”
God places eternal hands on your shoulders and gently guides you into the seat with the force of a million elephants. God smiles and pats you on the shoulder like a gentle thunderclap. You settle into the chair — it’s eminently comfortable — as God digs in a pile of dot matrix printouts and retrieves a white hat.
“I’ll be gone for just a bit,” God says, placing the hat on its mountainous head, sending a poof of white clouds towards the eternal ceiling. He moves towards the door.
“How do I do this?” you ask.
God turns and walks backwards. “Just say next when you want to see the next person in line, and call the angels if you get stuck.”
You look at the desk. Everything you need seems to be there.
“Are you sure about this?” you ask, feeling a bit dumb. As if God would have doubts.
God looks over a godlike ridgeline of a shoulder and winks, a supernovae smile flashing from across the hall. “You’ll do great kid. Be back in a bit.”
God pauses an immensely graceful moment. “One more thing. Only the first life counts. Got it?”
And then God is gone, and you’re alone in the great hall.
You look around and take in the majesty of the heavens above, and the pristine white marble floor leading to the pearl inlaid door. You look over your shoulder at the pile of reading materials and mediums behind you. You nod and settle into your chair.
Horns blow, angels sing, the door opens and the grumbling old man who waited behind you in the queue steps through. He spies you and stops short.
His jaw drops. “Oh shit…” he exclaims.
You smile, understanding. You wave him forward, grab a cuneiform tablet and a smartphone and get to work.