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Hand reaching for the sky

    Dale followed the light, which is what they always say you should do. His body was catapulted into some kind of cosmic vortex, where he floated around for what seemed like days.

    Finally, he landed, his Timberland work boots touching a marble floor. Up ahead were six massive, ivory columns that reached into the clouds. A man with a long, white beard and a flowing gown approached him, and smiled. Dale knew he must be St. Peter.

    “Hello, Dale,” he said. “We’re glad to have you.”

    Dale nodded and blinked. Everything was very bright up here in the clouds.

    “Just go over to one of the kiosks and sign yourself in,” St. Peter advised, extending a cloaked arm toward a battery of silver-plated work stations with glowing LED screens.

    Dale walked to one of the kiosks and typed in his name.

    “Do you have your confirmation number?”

    “My what?”

    “You need a confirmation number,” St. Peter said. “We sent it to you in a text message before you arrived. Do you have your phone?”

    “Why would I have my phone?” Dale asked.

    St. Peter shook his head. “People usually bring their phones. It’s okay. Let me help you.”

    The apostle walked to the kiosk and moved his pale, perfectly manicured fingers across the screen.

    “Can’t you just let me in?” Dale asked. “You obviously know who I am.”

    “I do?”

    “You called me by name when I got here.”

    St. Peter looked at him dubiously. “That’s because it’s on your shirt.”

    Dale looked down at the ironed patch on the left breast of his shirt. Dale had forgotten he was at work when the end came. His last conscious memory was scrambling across the floor, crab-like, as the underbelly of a Toyota Prius tumbled over him.

    St. Peter squinted at the kiosk screen. “We just upgraded to a new system,” he explained. “To say that it has a few bugs would be a bit of an understatement.”

    Dale nodded. He was extremely tired.

    “What’s your gmail address and password?” the saint asked. “That might do the trick.”

    Dale tried to remember his password. He gave St. Peter a combination of his first pet’s name and the year he graduated from high school. It didn’t work. Dale gave him the name of his first girlfriend and the year he lost his virginity. Still no luck.

    “Cheese and rice! This new system! I wish I could just wave you through, but I can’t,” St. Peter said. “Look, it’s getting late, and you’re exhausted. I’m going to book you a night at a place near here, and we’ll try this again tomorrow. Sound good?”

    St. Peter reached into his gown and pulled out an Android phone. He made the arrangements. Dale checked into the Pearly Gates Lodge, which billed itself as “The Closest Thing to Heaven.” The bed was rock-hard and the remote control didn’t work, but he was too tired to care. The breakfast buffet the next morning was pretty good, although the eggs were a little runny for Dale’s liking.

    “Hello, Dale,” St. Peter said, glancing at his shirt. “We’re glad to have you.”

    “I was here yesterday. I remembered my gmail password.”

    “Very good. Let’s give it a try.”

    They walked to the nearest kiosk. The password had come to Dale as he awoke that morning on the rock-hard motel mattress. FairLane#1968—it was the model and year of his first car.

    “Oh, heavens,” St. Peter said, after keying in the password three times. “Not good. Not good at all.”

    “What is it?”

    “It says, ‘your password has expired.’”

    “You gotta be kidding me.”

    Dale stood, a hand propped on his hip as St. Peter swiped through several brightly colored pages on the kiosk screen. Dale looked around. It seemed odd that he and St. Peter were the only two people at the entrance to Heaven. He crossed his arms and listened to a familiar melody playing softly over the PA system. After a moment or two, he identified the song as “Drops of Jupiter,” by Train.

    “So, what’s Hell like?” Dale asked.

    “Hell?” St. Peter said, still staring at the screen. “Oh, it’s a mess, total chaos. They run things on a paper-based system. It’s like being in the 1970s all over again.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The bars down there are all open until two in the morning, though. People need to self-medicate, you know, to deal with all the inefficiencies of being in Hell.”

    “Sounds like my kind of place,” Dale said. “How do I get there?”

    “The saint gave him a disapproving look. “You’re kidding, right?”

    “I think I’d like to give it a try,” Dale said.

    “Well, there’s no easy way to transfer you. If you’re really serious about going to Hell, you’ll have to fill out a few forms. It could take weeks to sort everything out.”

    Dale pivoted on the heel of his boot and gave St. Peter a wave as he walked toward the gold-hued cumulonimbus clouds.

    “No thanks,” Dale said. “I’ll figure out a way down there myself.”

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