by Charles C. Cole
The unexpected traveler, Milo, a retired salesman, looked rather dusty as he approached, as if from a long, determined hike. He smiled broadly as he handed over a coupon to the gatekeeper. “I was hoping for a quick visit in Heaven,” said Milo.
The gatekeeper had seen it all, the clever and the desperate and the misled. He glanced at the document, briefly. “I’m afraid it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. Sorry, friend. I can’t let you through.”
“It’s Heaven, right? Shouldn’t it be free to enter?”
“Heaven is free. But getting there requires arrangements above my paygrade. These don’t count.”
“I bought these from my preacher,” said Milo, “as a fundraiser for his kid’s school.”
“I hesitate to say you’ve been scammed. I’m sure he’s a lovely gentleman but, alas, The Management was not consulted in this instance.”
“You’re not a nice person,” said the traveler, dropping the fluttering paperwork and retreating into the distance.
An hour later, a young lady, Kitty, approached, walking quickly. “Here I am! I died on the operating table and came right away, before they could revive me. I only have a few minutes.”
“You don’t have to be dead to visit Heaven. Just pure of heart.”
“I thought you had to be incorporeal,” said Kitty.
“Only permanent residents.”
She stepped through the gate. The glow around her was unmistakable. “Is it as amazing as they say?”
“Funny enough, I’ve never been. I’m just the gatekeeper. I think they’re afraid, with a little exposure to the good life, I’d leave my post and never come back, leaving the door open to riffraff and so forth.” He shrugged.
Kitty felt a twinge of sadness. “I’ll take lots of notes for you, I promise, and share what I see.”
“Really? I’d like that.”
Kitty rushed off, running at top speed and laughing. Later, Kitty returned, standing some distance on the inside of the gate.
“Hey,” said the gatekeeper, “you only need approval to enter. No need to stand on ceremony. Isn’t there a body in surgery just waiting for you?”
“That’s why I’m still here,” said Kitty. “I didn’t make it. Almost. It was close. I can’t go back.”
“No kidding? Sorry. But this is a darned good consolation prize.”
“It’s great, I guess. More. But there are people I would have liked to say bye to.”
“I hear that a lot,” said the gatekeeper.
Kitty stared out the mostly-closed gate, but the mist beyond was thick and impenetrable.
“Not much of a view,” said the gatekeeper.
Soon two little girls of about six came skipping up behind Kitty, singing a jump-rope song.
Kitty watched them approach. There was something less than joyous here.
“Excuse me. Coming through!” they teased.
“You get to go back?” Kitty asked, flabbergasted. “Lucky stiffs.”
“Just me,” said one of the girls, Emma. “Not Sally, my twin sister. She’s staying. But I’ll be back soon, they say.”
“Can I ask you a favor?” asked Kitty. The girl shrugged. Kitty leaned close and whispered in her ear.
“If I can, I will. They’ll be happy to hear,” said Emma, then she slipped through the narrow opening to the other side. She turned to wave but disappeared quickly before their eyes.
“What did you ask her?” inquired the gatekeeper. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I asked her: if she could find a way, to tell my family I’m okay.”
“Sweety,” said the gatekeeper, “you saw how she disappeared. That’s what happens to memories of this place, when you leave. A few remember, but not often. Sorry. I say that a lot. But I thought you should know.”
“I believe in her,” said Kitty. “If there’s a way, she’ll do it. I better get back.”
“How is it, by the way?” asked the gatekeeper. “Everything wonderful? Family and old friends and loved ones thick as thieves?”
Kitty started to say something, but stopped, mouth open, as if frozen. She pointed about her. “In this place or that place?”
“The magical one. The one I only know by reputation. The one you were only going to visit. You were going to take notes.”
“I meant to. Then I forgot,” said Kitty. “I think they want you to find out for yourself, firsthand. It can’t be so bad, because I really want to get back. Like I’m being pulled.”
“Well, don’t waste time with a gatekeeper. You take care. Enjoy every minute of it.”
* * *
Years later, the gatekeeper finally retired. A young woman, vaguely familiar, approached to relieve him of his duties.
“I’m back,” said Kitty.
“Have we met?” he asked. “You look familiar.”
“A long time ago, you wanted me to give you a sneak preview of what’s beyond.”
“I did? That doesn’t sound like me. What did you tell me?”
“I didn’t. It’s a secret,” said Kitty.
“And now? Have you come back to tell me?”
“I can guarantee you one thing: it’s worth the wait. I promise. Go. I’ll cover the gate until the permanent assignment comes through.”
“Are you sure?” asked the gatekeeper. “This seems highly irregular.”
“I’ve been counting down to today for longer than you can imagine. I got special, one-time permission from the highest levels. I wanted to see your face when you were finally told you’re welcome to come in, to see more than the entrance, to enjoy the amenities.”
“Really? Me? I never thought this day would come. I feel like I should dress up. How do I look?”
“Humbled. Shocked. Delighted. Ready to be transformed. Like I could knock you over with a feather. You’re truly a good person. Go enjoy the fruits of your labor.”
“I remember somebody once disagreed with you. They were disappointed. But coming from you, someone who’s been there, lived there—”
“Danced there, sang there, loved and been loved there.”
“It means something, coming from you. Hope I see you around.”
And the former gatekeeper hastened away, with a new spring in his step.
Copyright © 2020 by Charles C. Cole