The Once Pearly Gates
Inspired by a writing prompt.
“I love you, Ellie,” his voice was muffled by her crying daughters standing nearby, holding her hand. She didn’t have to strain to hear, the familiar voice of the man she’d loved for almost 50 years. She tried her hardest to squeeze her daughters hands, but she didn’t have the strength. She felt Frank’s lips kissing her cheek gently, moistened with tears.
“I love you all,” she thought to herself as she struggled to take a breath. The sounds of the room faded as she lost consciousness.
In the next instant, she felt herself waking up, but she was standing. She took in a deep breath, and it felt good; the air was sweet and fresh, an intoxicating smell she’d never known before, and she’d spent the better part of her life high up in the mountains of Wyoming. She looked around, admiring the view. “Hello?” she called out. “Hello!!” she yelled as loud as she could, but was just met with the sound of a light breeze blowing through the sky.
“What is this place?” she wondered. “Did I die? Am I in heaven? Or is this a dream?” She looked up at the sparkling sky, a lovely gradient of lavender, pink and gold. She saw what looked like a gate up ahead and trotted towards it, looking around for other people. She stopped cold when she got close enough to see the gates; what was clearly once a beautiful, gleaming gold was now darkened with time. She touched the large, ornate handle, rubbing dust off of it, revealing a beautiful pearly ivory beneath the dirt.
“What the hell?” she said aloud, looking around to see if anyone had heard her say the word. She pulled on the handle to open the gate more, and it fell to the ground with a loud clang, tilting to the side off its hinges, held up only because it was leaning against the darkened gold perimeter. As loud as it was, no one had stirred; she was still met with silence, alone in this vast but beautiful space. She climbed over the leaning, fallen gate and took a few tenuous steps inside. She pinched herself, wishing she could wake up from this dream, if it was a dream. She suddenly began to wonder if this was it; was this the afterlife? Doomed to wander eternity alone?
“Oh my God,” she muttered under her breath, hugging herself.
“What was that?” The voice startled her, and she jumped, feeling at once terrified and relieved.
“Hello?” she called out. “Someone there?”
As if appearing from the mist, a man stood in front of her; draped in a pale gold gown, a white beard flowing from a smiling face, white hair and brows surrounding the kindest eyes she’d ever seen.
“Um,” she stammered. “Is that … you? Are you … him?”
A gentle laugh escaped from his lips. “I’m as surprised to see you as you are me,” he said.
“What’s happening here?”
“Well young lady,” he began. Ellie blushed. She hadn’t heard herself called that in a long time. “This used to be Heaven.”
As he moved closer to her, a calming warmth covered her whole body, inside and out, and she felt a wondrous sense of peace. She smiled, giggling when his eyes crinkled in the corners as he returned her smile.
“I’m not sure what this place is any more,” he said, looking down. “Just a lonely place with no one in it but me.”
“Well, what happened? Has no one else ever been here before … but me?” Her face fell when he let out a hearty laugh.
“Oh my, no. No, no, no! You do have an idea of how long this place has been around, haven’t you? And that about 55 million people die every single year?”
She grimaced, not particularly appreciating God’s sense of humor. “I get it,” she said. “So … where is everyone?”
“Well, it all started in 1977 when Elvis got here. We already had Janis Joplin and the two Jimmy’s, and they were annoying enough as it was.”
“The two Jimmy’s?” she asked.
“Hendrix, Morrison?” He frowned, looking disappointed. “Anyway, once Elvis got here, they were playing music every day. Every. Day. It wasn’t long after that John Lennon showed up.” He sighed. “Oh, I had a talk with the angels in charge of life spans, believe me. They assured me they had everything under control. I told ’em: NO MORE MUSICIANS.”
“Well, why God? What were they doing?”
“Music, all the time, night and day! Ya know, we didn’t even have night here until we got Freddie in 1991. He made things so much worse. I instituted a night time; pitch black for 10 hours a day just to get a little peace and quiet. Not that it helped much.”
“Well what about everyone else? Weren’t they annoyed too?”
He laughed. “Are you kidding? They loved it! They ate, they drank, they laughed, they danced … it was a never ending party. I’d never seen people so happy. Then Michael Jackson showed up.” He snorted. “You know he actually asked me to call him the King of Pop? I was like, ‘do you know who you’re talking to?’ He just laughed. He didn’t care. He was serious about it, too. Anyway once Michael showed up things really started to go downhill. I’d go into my sanctuary for a little peace and quiet, my son would always hang out with me … until Michael showed up and he started partying with them too! Can you believe it? My own son! I thought it couldn’t get worse. Then 2016 happened.”
“We got Bowie, that guy from the Eagles, Prince.” He sighed, suddenly moving downwards as if he was about to sit, when a huge throne appeared beneath him, catching him perfectly.
“Oh!” Ellie said, surprised. He ignored her, slumping in his chair and staring off into the distance.
“Once those guys got here, it really turned into a shit show.”
“Hey, didn’t George Michael die in 2016 too?”
He raised an eyebrow in thought. “Oh … yeah, I guess he was here too. Well anyway it finally got so bad that I had to make a new Heaven just for the musicians. I said, ‘hey guys, I can’t take this any more. It’s too much. All the musicians need to go to the new Heaven. And I’m not gonna be a huge asshole about it, so if anyone wants go with them, that’s fine.’ Well.” He gestured wildly to the vast, empty space around him. “I think you can see where everyone decided to go.”
“Oh my g — … uh, my! That’s just awful!”
“Yeah. But you’re here now, so it’s not so bad.” He smiled warmly at her again.
She smiled back, awkwardly avoiding his gaze and hugging herself for a moment. “So …” She cleared her throat. “Where do I …?”
He sighed, pointing. “Just follow that hallway, then head left and up the stairs. Everyone’s up there.”
“Thanks!” Ellie jogged down the hallway, she couldn’t wait to get up there and see. Before turning down the hallway she looked back. “Thanks, God! It was really nice meeting you!” He made a face, waved a hand at her, and disappeared.