I don't know what I was expecting from this whole thing. I suppose that I didn't think on it too hard – after all, I wasn't expecting to die this early in life. Drunk drivers, man. So not cool.
Anyway, I died. Paramedics, death certificate, boohoo, wake, more boohoo, funeral, yet more boohoo, burial…you get the picture. I was dead. Iced. Whacked. Takin' a dirt nap. Pushing up daisies. Worm food.
The thing that most people don't realize about death is that it's a horrible bore, at first. The car that hit me killed me instantly; I suppose that's a good thing, because it didn't hurt at all. However, the part that came next was quite possibly the most boring of my life.
"Hello?" I asked, looking around and for someone. "Is anyone there?"
They were there, all right, but they couldn't hear me…I was dead, after all. It only took me a moment to realize that I was dead, and you know, it didn't bother me so much. I mean, people get all upset about the prospect of dying, but once you actually go and do it, it isn't so bad. I wasn't in pain; in fact, I felt pretty good, all light on my feet and everything. I didn't have anything to do, though, past sitting around and waiting for whatever was going to happen next to happen.
I was left sitting on that street corner for about two hours, long after they'd cleaned up the crash and hauled my former body away, before the Angel of Death showed up.
If you really think about it, the Angel of Death must be one of the busiest guys in the Universe. When you consider that people die every four seconds on Earth, he must go nuts running here, running there, picking up souls and escorting them to where they needed to go. If he ever fell behind, he must have stayed that way – accounting for the amount of time I had to wait for him to get there.
As I sat on the street corner, looking around and just generally wondering how long I was going to wait around before I got up and did something, a van pulled up in front of me. It was one of those old Volkswagen vans – you know, the ones hippies would buy and paint them "psychedelic" colors. It only caught my eye for one reason: it was painted the same distinct yellow as a taxi, and even had all the markings of a city taxi.
Even with this strange color scheme, the bus didn't hold my attention long; after all, I didn't expect, in any way, that my shuttle to the netherworld would arrive in the form of a weird-looking hippy van. When the driver jumped out, his black dreadlocks waiving about his face, which was concealed behind a pair of mirror sunglasses, and waved to me, I realized that he had completely bypassed the small barrier the police had erected around the scene of my death – without moving the tape once. I further realized that this hippy driver of an odd-looking hippy van was wearing, well, odd clothes, for a hippy. He had on a long, black, flowing robe that shimmered oddly, despite the lack of a strong light anywhere around.
"Dudette!" he called, waving to me. "Over here, girl, let's get a move on!"
Hesitantly, I climbed to my ethereal feet. "You can see me?" I asked.
"Of course I can see you, my fair lady," he said, a Valley accent prevalent in his speech. "It'd make my job pretty damn hard if I couldn't see you."
I walked over to his van. "Who are you?" I asked.
"I'm the Angel of Death," the hippy said. "Come on, get in, I don't have a whole ton of time, you know."
I reached out for the handle of his van's passenger door. I hadn't yet tested whether or not I could touch things – I was a ghost, so I figured I couldn't – but my hand connected with cool metal and I pulled the door open. "Sweet!" the Angel of Death exulted, and jumped in next to me, throwing the van into gear and zooming away.
"You're Death?" I asked, amazed.
"Yep, that'd be me," he said, his eyes on the road.
"And you're a hippy?" I asked.
"I hate war," he said, simply. "Way, way too many people dying all at once…it's a freakin' hassle, man."
I guess that makes sense, if you think about it.
"You got lucky, girl," he said. "I just made a delivery of people, so you get to sit up front; they tell me its more comfy here."
"Delivery?" I asked, a bit confused.
The Angel of Death rolled his eyes. "Yeah, delivery," he said. "It'd take way too long to go back and forth between the Hereafter and Earth for every single soul, so I take 'em in groups."
I guess that makes sense, too.
"Woops, here we are!" he said, screeching to a halt. We'd arrived at a vastly similar street corner, cordoned off with vastly similar yellow police tape (that we'd somehow passed right through). Sitting on the corner was a man in a business suit.
The Angel of Death hopped out once again and hollered to the man to get in. The man, looking every bit as bewildered as I must have, went around to the back of the van and climbed in. Death hopped back in once again, made a little tick mark on a list I hadn't noticed before, and put the van in gear again. Once more, we were off.
"Hello," said the man. "My name is Rupert T. Frederick."
"I'm the Angel of Death, and this is Lori," the Angel of Death replied. "Nice to meet you, man. Too bad it's under these circumstances."
"I'd imagine you meet most people under these circumstances," Rupert T. Frederick replied, wryly.
"That's true," the Angel of Death said.
"Do all dead people just wait around like we did?" I asked.
"Most of 'em, yeah," the Angel of Death replied, cutting a sharp corner that, if the laws of physics hadn't already been disproved by my very existence, ought to have tipped over the van. "A few wander off or go nuts. Things get interesting then; sometimes they get away. You believe in ghosts, little lady?"
"I suppose I'd have to at this point, wouldn't I?" I asked.
"That's true," the Angel of Death said.
We zoomed around, picking up half a dozen more people over the next few minutes. The Angel of Death eventually looked at his list and nodded to himself. "Okay, that's everyone," he said. "You folks ready for your afterlives to begin?"
There was little response to that; it's just not the sort of question you prepare for.
"Right," Death said, a bit dejectedly. "They never go for that one…"
The van zoomed off, and, before it should have been possible, we were sitting in traffic in New York City. We inched forward slowly, drawing ever closer to a tunnel ahead of us.
"What are we doing here?" I asked.
"You're going to get sorted, and I'm going to get back to work," the Angel of Death replied. We closed with the entrance to the tunnel. "It's been fun."
In a second, all the lights went out. When they came back on, the lot of us weren't sitting in the Angel of Death's van; we were sitting in a small, cramped white room, with magazines and newspapers littering a small table in the middle.
"What…?" I asked, as everyone else was uttering similar phrases.
A voice, speaking from no where any of us could see, came on. "Welcome to the afterlife," it droned, reminiscent of the voice on an airplane's safety explanation. "You will be called into the next room to face your Final Judgment shortly. Please wait – we're a bit backed up today. Thank you, and enjoy your stay here at the Pearly Gates Reception Room."
"Pearly Gates Reception Room?" Rupert T. Frederick asked. "Don't tell me…Heaven is run by some Marriot branch?"
The first of our number was called several minutes later. "Alastor Anastasia," the loudspeaker said. "Please proceed to the next room for your Final Judgment. Thank you, and have a nice day."
One of the men amongst us rose, and approached the door, a huge grin on his face. He passed through it and was gone.
"What was he so happy about?" I asked.
"He just died in a fire trying to save someone who was trapped," one of the women said, from the corner, behind an out-of-date copy of Time Magazine.
"How do you know that?" Rupert T. Frederick asked.
"Because I was the one who was trapped," the woman replied, airily turning a page.
"Oh," Rupert and I said, at the same time.
My turn came several minutes later. "Lori Caskill," the loudspeaker announced, in its usual monotonous droning. "Please proceed to the next room for your Final Judgement. Thank you, and have a nice day."
I just died, thanks…I'm having a great day.
I walked through the door and was greeted by the largest gate I've ever seen. It was probably about fifty or sixty feet tall and was a brilliant, shining white. The gate's linked sections extended as far as the eye could see in either direction. Standing in front of it was a tall, skinny man in glasses, holding a clipboard much like the one the Angel of Death had possessed.
"Let me guess…you're Saint Peter," I said.
"In the holy flesh," Saint Peter replied, dryly. "Name?"
"Lori Caskill," I said.
"Caskill…Caskill…Caskill…" Saint Peter muttered, browsing down through his list. "Hmm…here you are. Yes, okay then…tell me, what is the meaning of life?"
"The meaning of life?" I asked. "Uh…isn't that…being kind and generous and living righteously?"
Saint Peter looked up from his clipboard. "You're seventeen, aren't you, Miss Caskill?"
"Yes, I am," I said. "Or at least, I was."
"Whatever," Saint Peter responded. "You've been on Earth seventeen years, and the best meaning of life you can come up with is that load of hippy peace crap?"
"Hey, the Angel of Death is a hippy!" I said, offended.
"Yeah, and he's a guy who spends all of his time with dead people," Saint Peter said. "Not exactly someone you'd want to be modeling your life choices on…unless for some reason you wanted to be a mortician…"
"If kindness and generosity aren't the meaning of life, than what is?" I asked, angrily.
Saint Peter tipped his glasses at me. "Well…uh…that'd be…" he scratched his chin and looked down at his clipboard, as though the answer would be amongst the thousands of tiny names written there. "Um…hey!…I don't have to tell you that!"
"That isn't fair!" I said. "You let us run around on Earth trying to figure out the meaning of life, and you won't let us into heaven if we don't know it, even when you don't know it!"
"I didn't say I didn't know it!" Saint Peter said, getting flustered. "I just said that I don't have to tell you!"
"You're a jerk!" I yelled.
"You're a brat!" Saint Peter yelled back.
"Go fly a kite!" I yelled.
"Go hump a tree!" Saint Peter yelled back.
"Go screw!" I yelled.
"Go to Hell!" Saint Peter yelled back.
Instantly, a gaping hole opened under my feet and I plummeted into an extreme darkness.
In retrospect, getting into a shouting match with the guy in charge of whether or not I got into heaven probably wasn't the best of ideas. I can be a little impulsive. It's a character flaw.
In any case, the falling stage of my trip to Hell didn't take too long. I landed quickly, facedown, on a soft, loamy patch of ground. I picked myself up slowly – being dead could still hurt, after all – and surveyed my surroundings.
All hints of the large, white, shiny gate were gone. I was standing in the middle of a bright red, circular target, marked with a sign that said "LANDING ZONE" in red letters. Around me were several other such "LANDING ZONE" signs and targets. Several of them had people on them, in much the same state I was in.
"What the…?" I asked, looking around.
I was standing in the middle of a gigantic, black and brown cavern. The target I was standing on was part of a tiny island of rock; beneath my little island was a sea of lava, which churned and bubbled violently. I attempted to step back from the edge, but there was nowhere to step back to. I was trapped.
"Okay…I really shouldn't have argued with him," I said out loud.
"THAT IS CORRECT," said a huge, disembodied voice. "YOU HAVE BEEN VERY DUMB…AND IT HAS LANDED YOU HERE. IN HELL."
"SATAN? YES," the disembodied Lord of All Evil said. The others around me shivered with fear. "WELCOME TO MY KINGDOM, WHERE YOU WILL SPEND THE REST OF ETERNITY IN ETERNAL TORMENT."
"That's a little redundant," I said.
"WHAT?" Satan asked.
"I'm just pointing out a redundancy in what you just said," I said. "You said that we'll "spend the rest of eternity in eternal torment." That's redundant."
"I CAN SEE WHY YOU ENDED UP HERE," Satan said. "YOU'VE BEEN DEAD LESS THAN A DAY AND I ALREADY CAN'T STAND YOU."
"You know, you're a jerk," I said. "In fact, all of you afterlife people are jerks. Except Death…he was nice enough."
"WHY DO ALL THE GIRLS GO FOR THE FRIGGIN' ANGEL OF DEATH, HUH?" Satan asked, sounding, if anything, pouty. "I WAS A LOT MORE POWERFUL THAN HIM WHEN I WAS AN ANGEL, AND NOW I'M THE LORD OF ALL EVIL. AND WHAT IS HE? A LONG-HAIRED CAB DRIVER WITH A CRAPPY RIDE, THAT'S WHAT."
"But at least he's nice," I said. "You're just plain mean."
"I'M THE LORD OF ALL EVIL! YOU WOULDN'T EXPECT ME TO BE A FLUFFY LITTLE BUNNY, WOULD YOU?" Satan thundered.
"Well, I don't know," I said. "Personally, I'd prefer fluffy bunny. At least they're cute; you don't even have an appearance."
"DON'T HAVE AN APPEARANCE?!" Satan shouted, several boulders raining down from the ceiling as his words shook the cavern. "I HAVE AN APPEARANCE, MISSY. OH, YOU DID IT NOW…"
What shimmered into view over our heads was perhaps the worst thing I've ever seen. It most reminded me of a dragon. It had a pair of huge wings, that beat the air so hard that the downdraft almost knocked me off my feet. Its three heads each had two black, lidless eyes, and inside each mouth was the body of a man. The heads continuously chewed on the men.
"NOW YOU KNOW MY FORM!" Satan roared. "BOW BEFORE ME!"
"Uh, excuse me? Mr. Satan?" I said. "I have a question."
Satan groaned. "WHAT NOW?" he asked.
"How are you talking?" I asked. "I mean, you keep on chewing on those three guys…how can you speak if you don't, I don't know, swallow them or something?"
"THESE ARE THE THREE GREAT TRAITORS, BRUTUS, CASSIUS, AND JUDAS," Satan said, by way of explanation. "I WILL CHEW ON THEIR BODIES FOR ETERNITY AS PUNISHMENT FOR THE GREAT SIN OF BETRAYAL. IF I WANT TO KEEP TALKING WHILE I DO IT, THAT'S MY OWN DAMN BUSINESS."
"You're Brutus?" I asked. "Dude, I read that Shakespeare play about you…you got totally screwed."
"ENOUGH OF THIS!" Satan shouted. "THE FRONT OFFICE HAS AUTHENTICATED YOU. YOU ARE ALL SINNERS. YOU WILL NOW BE CAST INTO THE DEPTHS OF HELL! MUAHAHAHA!"
Once again, a hole opened up underneath me. I was, for a split second, horrified into thinking that I was about to fall into the sea of lava; since I couldn't die again, I'd have just sat there for eternity, getting slow cooked. However, to my surprise, the hole underneath my little island revealed a chute and a long, dark slide.
Once more, I found myself falling. And falling. And falling some more. The trip down into the depths of Hell took a lot longer than the trip into…whatever that cavern had been.
When I finally landed, I expected to be beset by demons and hellfire and all other such things. I had my eyes firmly pinched shut and was prepared to try and endure the excruciating pain that was about to begin.
However, the pain never came. Eventually, I opened my eyes, and was greeted by the single strangest sight of my afterlife: Hell was a giant hippy party.
No joke. Everyone in sight had long hair and was smoking a joint. Most wore terrifically bright clothing and beads, and probably smelled bad, although I couldn't tell since I wasn't used to the overwhelming scent of pot smoke pervading the entire landscape. I hacked and coughed on it, and a few of them smiled, as though they'd seen this routine before.
"What the…where am I?" I asked.
"This is Hell," one of the hippies said. "Want a joint? It'll free your mind."
"Hell? This isn't Hell," I said. "Where's all the fire? The torture? The wracking pain of souls in redundant eternal torment?"
"Dude, that's a total buzz kill," another of the hippies said.
"Yeah, man, what are you thinking?" the first hippy said. "We're all about peace and harmony here. If you don't want in…well then, you'll just have to talk to the boss."
"The…boss?" I asked, not really believing what I was hearing.
"Yeah, the boss," the hippies said. "He runs the place. Dude used to be a total square, but he lightened up. Around here, we don't have to hate the Man anymore."
"Amen," a whole bunch of the hippies said, at once, and then went back to their pot smoking.
"If you want to talk to the boss, his den is up there, on the hill," the first hippy said. "And remember: su casa…es su casa."
I considered thanking the hippy who had helped me, but he was already engrossed in the joint he was smoking and seemed to have forgotten that I existed. Instead of thanking him, I waded off through the crowd toward "the hill", which I could just barely see in the distance.
As I walked through the crowd, I came to appreciate just how many hippies there were in Hell. There were…hundreds of thousands…at the very least. Probably millions. Probably billions. I lost track trying to count them all, and then lost track trying to estimate. There were more hippies in Hell, it seemed, than there had ever been on Earth.
I eventually reached the boss' "den" on top of the hill. It was somewhere between a lean-to and a shack, but it was huge – mansion sized. It even seemed to have multiple floors, although how that was possible I couldn't have told you.
"Hey, I want to see the boss," I said to the young woman sitting next to the front door.
She looked up and examined me. "Oh, yes," she said. "He's expecting you. You can just go right in – the door will change to the right room for you."
"It'll what?" I asked, as I stepped through. When I turned my attention back to where I was going, I was in a small, open room…on the third floor.
"Whoa…" I muttered. "Not bad."
"You like it?" a
voice from a "corner" of the room said. "Cause after everything
you said up there, I figured you'd be against everything. We get
those types a lot around here."
I turned back to see a small, plump man in a pair of black slacks, wearing comfortable flip flops and a Bermuda-style collared shirt that unbuttoned at the top. He was balding slightly. "Who are you?" I asked.
"Can't you guess?" he asked. "I'm the boss. I'm Satan. Pleased to meet you."
He walked over casually and stuck out his hand. Unsure, I shook it. "But…I thought…up in the cavern…"
"Oh, that," Satan said. "Yeah, God sends down some Angels every once and a while to check up on things and make sure that all the sinners are still boiling in their own fluids. I came up with the entrance chamber thing to screen out all the Angel agents and make sure that they still thought that everything was doom and gloom around here."
"But…why isn't it all doom and gloom?" I asked, honestly perplexed.
"Oh!" Satan said, slapping his forehead. "I don't usually talk to the newbies myself, so I forgot that you didn't already know. About twenty-five years ago, some guy named Lennon showed up, insisting that he was an insect and talking about "imagining" a whole bunch of great things. Well, he got me thinking about how everyone hated it around here, and about how much I hated it around here, and I decided that we would change things around. Of course, then that Yoko Ono chick showed up and we haven't spoken since…but still, he got things going.
"A bunch of hippies showed up around the same time, and they introduced me to marijuana. That, and the fact that they kept having these huge "sit-ins" despite all the fire, made me finally decide to shift Hell into a free love community."
"Huh," I said. "That's…incredible. But wait…John Lennon went to Hell?"
"Honey, the Catholics are running things upstairs," Satan said. "They want to judge people by sex and praying and whether or not you're a kook – and that meaning of life thing that Pete keeps pulling, even though no one ever gets it right – so its not what you would call "fair selection." Plus, they instituted Affirmative Action in the mid-sixties, so we've been getting more and more white people down here ever since."
"That's…great," I said, still more than a little shocked. "I…but what about all the evil people, like Hitler and Stalin?"
Satan laughed. "Please," he said. "After a week in hippyville, they were begging to go back to the fires. Which, of course, don't exist anymore. So the whole thing works out – most of us get to live in free love and peace and harmony without death or war or destruction…and the evil people are forced to live here too. It's a true Hell for them." He winked to emphasize the joke, and I laughed, feeling as though things weren't great, but could have been a whole lot worse.
My relief was short lived. A short man in a horrible tie came bursting through the door, panting hard and carrying a piece of paper. "From…the Front Office," he gasped, and handed the paper to Satan.
Satan read the paper and the jovial look on his face changed immediately to one of intense worry. "You're not supposed to be here," he said. "You're supposed to be in Heaven…you were too young when you died to make the choice between Jesus and other things, and that's kind of a "Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free" Card."
"They made a mistake?" I asked. "Heaven screwed up?"
"What can I say, they elected a Republican and cut taxes, and now they're stuck with computers running Windows ME," Satan said. "We have to get you back up into the cavern pronto."
He put down the paper and clasped me by the shoulders. "You're a caustic bitch and you talk way too much," Satan said. "I'm going to miss you."
With that, he hurled me with amazing strength straight up, breaking through the skylight in his shack/mansion. I flew upwards into one of the chutes…and continued to fly.
Eventually I saw light, and a moment later, I popped out of one of the targets and landed squarely on my feet. This time, a couple of Angels hovered in the air over my head, looking all pristine in their white robes and lovely, feathery white wings. A moment later, the huge, dragon-beast Satan incarnation appeared too. He shifted uncomfortably.
"HERE IS THE SOUL, RETURNED FROM TORMENT ETERNAL," he said. Silence descended. "TORMENT ETERNAL," Satan repeated, this time nudging me (nearly knocking me off my feet, considering his proportionate size and strength) and looking at me pointedly.
"Oh, uh…" I said. "Ow, it hurts, it…burns?"
Satan covered one of his massive faces with a similarly massive, clawed hand. "JUST TAKE HER," he said. "SHE'S TOO DUMB TO REALIZE THAT SHE WAS IN HELL ANYWAY."
The Angels, which hadn't said anything and continued their mute streak, swooped down and grabbed me up, and suddenly we were flying up at a speed that I can only describe as "alarming".
The journey up was a lot like the journey down had been, except for the requisite change in directions. And, of course, the Angels that were pulling me by my shoulders, which actually was rather uncomfortable.
"Hey, could we change positions here?" I asked. "Maybe I could ride on one of your back's or something."
Neither of them said anything.
The Angels finally exited the tunnel we were in and deposited me in front of the enormous white gates before flying off, up and over them. St. Peter stood before the gates, in the same place he'd been when I'd first been sent to Hell, looking thoroughly disgruntled.
"Well, Miss Caskill, I hope you're happy," he said. "That friend of yours, Rupert T. Frederick, made such a fuss when he found out that you'd been sent to Hell that they checked the file over and discovered that you were actually 17. I had to tell them it was a computer error just to cover my ass. So…THANK YOU…a lot."
I smiled with saccharine sweetness. "You're welcome," I said, batting my eyelashes at him. He cringed and tightened his grip on his clipboard, but was forced to turn around and press a button on the gate. The huge thing shuddered and swung outward, allowing about two or three feet of clearance.
"That's it?" I asked, wondering if I was going to be able to squeeze through.
"Yeah, that's it," St. Peter said, and by the look of malicious triumph in his divine eyes I would have bet my soul (which was pretty much all I had left) that he was responsible. "Have a nice afterlife."
"I will," I said, gushingly. "I'm sure that I'm going to enjoy every last, solitary second of it. Every nanosecond. Every…"
By the time I'd begun that last sentence, I had squeezed myself through the gate…and into Heaven. If your breath isn't immediately taken away upon entering Heaven for the first time, then really…there's something wrong.
The place was bigger than the cavern that served as decoy-Hell and the plateau that served as actual-Hell combined. Despite its size, however, from first glance it was easy to tell that there were far fewer people here than in Hell.
"Not many people here," I muttered to myself.
"They reinforced their immigration laws," Rupert T. Frederick said, from an alcove behind me where I hadn't been able to see him as I entered Heaven. "I hear that they have a Catholic Republican running things around here right now…weird."
I turned and gave Rupert a huge hug. "I heard what you did for me," I said. "Thank you."
"Well, I suppose I was inspired," he said, a bit awkwardly. "I hadn't been expecting to get in…when I took the test, my verbal score was way lower than my math, but I still pulled off a twelve hundred…but anyway, once I was in, I felt really badly that you weren't. So I did some digging and…viola!"
"So…how are things here?" I asked, pulling back and giving Rupert T. Frederick enough room to be comfortable.
"Not at all what I expected," he said. "You know, God is actually an elected official?"
"No way," I said. "Really?"
"Really," Rupert T. Frederick said. "Back when the cosmos was getting created, a bunch of dead guys showed up in Heaven. They decided that only one of them should rule, so every millennia they took a vote and one of them got to be God. Over the years, they only let the "righteous" into Heaven so that idiots and heathens and evil people wouldn't be allowed to vote, which might result in disaster."
"That's incredible," I said. Then I realized something. "Hey, that's voter discrimination!"
"Huh?" Rupert T. Frederick said.
"It's elitism! Voting for a leader is a right, not a privilege, and it can't be bestowed upon only certain people," I said. "Especially if God really is just one of us who happens to be in office at the time."
"Well, I hadn't thought of it that way," Rupert T. Frederick said. "Still, I would assume that it's for the best. I mean, final judgment and all that – it means that God is the only one who can truly judge us, so whatever He judges must be for the best…right?"
"Come on, Rupert, think," I said. "You unearthed just how corrupt the process is up here. St. Peter would have sent me to Hell just because we got into an argument over the meaning of life. And "God" is just a dead guy with lots of powers – hell, they could elect me "God" next millennium. Can you imagine that?"
"That wouldn't be so bad," Rupert T. Frederick reasoned, logically. "I mean, you obviously know a lot more about the process than I do."
"Thank you," I said. "But focus on this: what stops the present "God" from loading up heaven with people like him so that they'll vote for him next millennium? Nothing. "God" is the one who makes all the final judgments. "God" is the one who can reverse everyone else's decisions. "God", "God", "God"…are we seeing a pattern here?"
"Well…okay then. We have to do something about this. Let's go see God." I said, resolute.
"You're really into this…that's a little hot…do you want to come back to my place after this so we can…" he asked, suggestively. He winked at me and gave me the telltale nudge.
The guy may have saved my soul from (what he thought was) eternal damnation, but I wasn't going to go that far.
"Let's go see God," I said, with a little more urgency.
Getting to see God was a little more difficult than getting to see Satan had been. I'd expected as much; anyone with as much on his plate as God must have would have be pretty busy.
"God is busy," his secretary said, sitting at a pristine white desk in a waiting room to pristine to be real.
"I know he's busy," I said. "Do you think you can fit us in later?"
"Hmm…" the secretary said, poring down her list. "Well, I suppose. How does five hundred twelve years sound?"
"Five hundred twelve years?" I asked, astounded. "I don't want to wait that long. That's ridiculous."
"Well, if you'd gotten here and hour ago, you'd have gotten about three hundred fifty or so years," the secretary said. "Our Lord just scheduled another vacation."
"Vacation?" I asked, getting angry. "He's going on vacation?"
"Well, yes," the secretary said. "It's a very stressful job, you know. Our Lord needs to take off a century or two every now and then to relax."
"A century?" I said, practically yelling. "A whole century?"
"Yes," the secretary said, condescendingly. "A whole century…that's one hundred years. Do you want to count them with me? One…two…three…"
"Right, right, I get the picture," I said. "Look, what is God doing now?"
The secretary's expression vanished and she developed a very hooded look. "He's…working," she said.
"Working?" I said. "Well, if he's always in need of a break, I'm sure he won't mind a little interruption."
I moved for the door, Rupert T. Frederick behind me. The secretary bolted around her desk, but wasn't quite fast enough; I reached out, pushed down the handle on the door, and took my first step into God' office.
Instantly, a blinding white light hit me in the face, forcing me to shut my eyes. "WHO DARES INTERRUPT ME?" a voice boomed from inside the office.
"Lori Caskill," I said. "I just wanted to ask you a few questions."
"DO YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT?" God asked.
"Well, no," I said, still shielding my eyes. "But if you're not very busy right now, it'll only take a few minutes…"
"MY DEAR, I'M GOD," God said. "I'M ALWAYS BUSY."
"Your secretary told me about your vacations," I said. "You can't be busy all the time if you find time for century-long vacations."
"WELL…UH…" God said. "YOU SEE, ABOUT THAT…I…"
"Why is it that it's so easy to stump all of you omniscient beings?" I asked. "I mean, Saint Peter and Satan, okay, fine, maybe they're not so bright. But God? God should not be dumb."
"HOW DARE YOU CALL ME DUMB?" God roared.
"What are you going to do?" I asked. "Kill me?"
"I'LL…I'LL…" God said, trying to come up with a punishment.
"Here we go again…" I muttered. "Look, why don't you just quit the sunlight thing and let me and my friend come in and talk to you for a few minutes? It'd be more productive than this is."
"FINE," God said. "COME IN, THEN."
The light receded and, blinking, I stepped into the room. As my eyes cleared, I saw God, wearing a plaid shirt, a pair of khaki shorts, and a bowler hat, hastily stuffing a putter back into a golf bag. Across the room was a portable hole and several golf balls.
"You weren't working," I accused. "You were practicing your short game!"
"I was takin' a break," God said, and, without the thunderous reverb, sounded distinctly southern.
"Look, this is simple," I said. "We're just here to talk to you about the electoral process around here. I've uncovered some disturbing information that points to unfair practices in the voting system."
"Say what?" God asked.
"Well, we think that the system is elitist and excludes voters," I said. "We'd like a recount."
"Typical liberals…" God muttered. "I'll have to remember to repeal that law that lets all kids into Heaven…"
"Ah!" I said, utterly mortified. "You see, you're doing it again! Anyone that you don't think would vote for you, you just write off to Hell!"
"So?" God asked. "Look, ma'am, I'm the Lord Almighty. Everything I say is…well…Gospel. The Law. The Word of God. And if I choose to send all the liberal hippy scumbags to Hell…well, that's just what's ducky."
"Ducky?" I yelled. "Are you telling me that I have to spend all of eternity with a ruler that thinks that discriminatory voting practices are ducky?"
"Yes," God said. He looked terribly pleased with himself. "Now run along, I've got some strategerizing to do…"
God shooed us out of his office. I had decided not to go without a fight, but, without ever moving a foot, I found myself back outside in the waiting room, the door to God's office very firmly shut in my face.
"Thank you for coming," the secretary said, sickly sweet. "Please visit again…never."
I scowled at her, and then dragged Rupert T. Frederick out of the office. On the front steps outside (appropriately huge and out of proportion, just like everything else in Heaven). "This is ludicrous," I said. "I refuse to believe that the afterlife is poorly managed."
"Believe it, honey," a man said, his voice ragged.
I looked up to see a disgruntled-looking man pushing a shopping cart come shuffling slowly up to us. He was wearing the same white robes as the other divine people in Heaven were wearing, but they were tattered and dirty, and the man himself looked as though it'd been several ages since he'd taken a bath. To make matters even stranger, his shopping cart was filled with all manners of odd materials – a long stick that was broken in half, several half-empty wine bottles, and an old, worn medical journal.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Eh, you wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said. "No one does, not anymore."
"Um…" I said. "I'm…sorry?"
"No, you aren't," the man said. "But that's okay. I forgive you." He apparently thought that was pretty funny, because he burst out laughing. His laughter wheezed, and it soon transformed into crying.
"Look, if you just tell us who you are…" I said, but trailed off when I looked at his hands. They were stretched out on the handle of the shopping cart, and right in the middle of both hands was a small, round hole.
"Jesus!" I said. "You're Jesus Christ!"
"Very good," Jesus said, dryly. "At least someone recognizes me these days."
"But what happened to you?" I asked. "Why are you…a…"
"Bum?" Jesus asked, and I nodded. "Well, see, I'm the son of God, right? Well, I was the son of the guy who was in office two terms ago. They booted him out right around the same time I was born. So you see, I was running around, turning water into wine, healing people, and preaching God's word…when the same guy wasn't even God anymore. This new guy…well, you just met him, so obviously you know what he's like…it's all very depressing."
"Why did they kick him out of office?" I asked.
"The whole fiasco with Brutus and Cassius," Jesus said. "It was a huge campaign deterrent…after all, my Dad's campaign was based on how advanced and good Roman society was, and how civilization was beginning to flourish, and then they went and did that…oh, it screwed him over so bad. His approval ratings went through the floor…there was talk of impeachment…it was a mess, apparently. I wasn't even born yet…you can imagine what it was like when I got here…all the people were like, "Yeah, that's Jesus…you know…the last guy's son…" It was horrible."
"That does sound horrible," I said, a plan beginning to form. "Really horrible…say…you wouldn't want to help us…change things a bit, would you?"
"Would I ever," Jesus said. "But it's all been tried. The Muslims and the Jews tried it about a thousand years ago. That's why you had the Crusades."
"Maybe we need to use a bit more finesse than they did…" I said. "Come on…I have an idea."
Later that day (not that days mattered to us anymore, in the land where time makes no difference), Rupert T. Frederick, Jesus, and I lined up outside God's office building with picket signs. Mine read "Impeach God!". Rupert's read "Free Elections are Heavenly" and Jesus' read "Prune Juice REALLY IS Good for the Soul!"
He made it. Maybe it's an in-joke or something, I don't know.
The three of us marched around in circles, chanting our anti-God slogans and just generally trying to make nuisances of ourselves. Eventually, God' secretary came out to see what all the racket was about.
"What's going on? What are you doing?" she asked.
"We're protesting God's unfair practices," I said. "We're citizens of Heaven. We deserve the right to assemble peaceably."
"AMERICANS!" God roared, from inside the building. "I HATE AMERICANS! EXCEPT THAT NIXON FELLOW, HE WAS OKAY…BUT THE REST OF YOU! ALWAYS DEMANDING RIGHTS! ALWAYS SHOUTING ABOUT UNFAIR PRACTICES! ALWAYS BOMBING LITTLE COUNTRIES…WAIT…UH, YEAH! JUST SHUT UP! SHUT UP AND GET OUT OF HEAVEN IF YOU HATE IT SO MUCH HERE!"
For the second time in a while, a hole appeared under me, and I plummeted through it, Rupert T. Frederick and Jesus by my side. We fell…and we fell…and I was bored.
"Ahh!!!" Rupert T. Frederick yelled.
"Don't worry," I said. "If you've ever driven in LA, this is nothing."
"Ahh!!!" Jesus yelled.
"What's wrong with you?" I asked. "Aren't you supposed to have nerves of steel, being the Son of God and all that?"
"I get airsick!" Jesus yelled.
"How would you know?" I yelled back. "Planes hadn't been invented when you were on Earth."
"ALWAYS WITH THE QUESTIONS!!!" God's echoing roar came from behind us.
After a few minutes of falling and enduring the yelling of my two esteemed colleagues, we hit the bottom. I hit my target, bounced slightly, and, a little more boldly than the last time I'd found myself in this position, picked myself up.
"WELCOME TO MY KINGDOM, WHERE YOU WILL SPEND THE REST OF ETERNITY IN ETERNAL TORMENT," came Satan's thundering cavern-voice. His huge, chewing dragon form already occupied the cavern.
"I'm pretty sure that we've already been through the redundancy thing," I said.
"NOT ANOTHER ONE…WAIT…LORI?" Satan asked.
"In the incorporeal flesh," I said, rubbing my elbows. "And if I'm incorporeal, how can I skin my elbows?"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?" Satan asked. "WE SENT YOU BACK UP TO HEAVEN."
"Yeah, they didn't like me much up there," I said.
Satan snorted, which, consequently, sent huge flames dancing around the cavern. "I'LL BET," he said. "SO THEY SENT YOU BACK?"
"Yes," I said, smiling sweetly. "Me…and a few friends."
"OH, WHO DID YOU GET KICKED OUT OF ETERNAL PARADISE NOW?" Satan asked. "YOU'RE AS BAD AS EVE AND THE SNAKE…OH WELL, THE FRONT OFFICE IS DONE WITH EVERYONE'S PAPERWORK…COME ON DOWN…"
Yet again, I felt the ground shift out from under my feet, and I fell. I heard Jesus and Rupert T. Frederick resume screaming and I shook my head, falling all the while.
Rather than last time, when I'd landed amidst the hippies, this time the three of us landed in front of Satan's abode. I picked myself up quickly again and, now that there wasn't a sea of lava separating me from my friends, helped them up as well. Both Rupert and Jesus were as amazed at the state of Hell as I had been.
"What the hell is going on here?" Jesus asked.
"You know, it's funny, but grammatically, that ought to be "what is going on here in hell?"" a voice said from behind us. Still dressed in his casual slacks, Bermuda shirt, and flip-flops, Satan walked up to greet us.
"Too lazy to deal with the greeting thing?" I asked.
"Cut me some slack, huh? The greeting is tradition," Satan said, smiling at the three of us. "I turned Hell into a free love community…I couldn't tear apart all of our traditions down here."
"Satan?" Jesus asked. "Wow. You look a lot better than the last time I saw you."
"Wish I could say the same for you, buddy," Satan said, clapping an arm on Jesus' back and then withdrawing it in mild disgust. "I live with a horde of hippies, and even I think you're gross. What happened?"
"Power change," Jesus said. "It's been…depressing…in Heaven, for the last two thousand years or so."
"There's this dude down at the café you ought to meet," Satan said. "His name's Poe…loves the dramatic and the macabre…I'm pretty sure he cried when we took his fire away, but when we introduced him to coffee and typewriters he perked right up…"
"That can wait," I said. "For now, Satan, we need your help."
"Well, you're welcome to stay, for eternity if you want," Satan said. "When you were here before, someone must have mentioned…mi casa es su casa."
"Yes, I know," I said. "And thanks. But I'm afraid we're going to need a little more than that…"
Satan had taken us inside to talk and I'd outlined my plans. When I was done, he leaned back in his chair, sipping some java and looking concerned. "I don't know," he said. "Most of us down here don't do that sort of thing anymore."
"But you have to!" I said. "God is controlling paradise, making it an unfair, elitism society where everything is stagnant and all attempts at free thought and expression are completely stifled. You have more than enough men and enough military geniuses down here to overthrow him."
"You don't understand," Satan said. "We've abolished war. Suffering. Pain. All that bad stuff. Sure, we still get the occasional really bad apple down here, but they either learn to fit into our peaceful society or they go crazy. Or, you know, crazier. We have our own paradise down here, and we don't want to risk that."
"What about all the really decent people in Heaven?" I asked. "They don't have a chance to experience a true intellectual paradise because of what God is doing up there."
"I'm sorry for them, I really am," Satan said. "But think about it – if God is an elitist, than they're the ones who he handpicked to live in his elite society. They're probably pretty happy."
"Maybe they were at first," I said. "But they're so choked up by the monotony that they don't even remember what happiness is at this point."
"I wish I could help you," Satan said, pointedly. "But I can't."
"You used to be such a rebel, Satan," Jesus said. "Falling from grace and all that. What happened to you?"
"I got comfortable," Satan said. "We've got something really great going on down here and I'm not willing to sacrifice that. We don't believe in war – period. We can't make exceptions on that – period. Not for this cause, not for any other cause. You're just going to have to find another way."
"Is that your final answer?" I asked.
"Yes," Satan said. "And actually, Regis Philbin is going to Heaven."
"Go figure," Rupert T. Frederick and I said at the same time.
"Who is Regis Philbin?" Jesus asked.
"Okay, so that's a major roadblock," I said, as Rupert, Jesus, and I left Satan's "casa". "We're going to need to take some time to figure out what we're going to do next."
"Burritos?" Rupert asked. Jesus and I looked at him, speculatively. "What? I was inspired by the surroundings."
"If we can't just attack Heaven," I said, ignoring Rupert's moment of stupidity. "we'll have to go in covertly."
"The only problem with that is that we've been kicked out," Jesus pointed out. "It's not like their security is that lax. I mean, you've been denied eternity in paradise twice now, Lori. And it isn't as though I'm an inconspicuous character."
"I suppose that's true," I said. "We're stuck, aren't we?"
"Maybe that's for the best," Rupert said. Jesus and I, once again, turned to look at him speculatively. "Some of the things Satan said were very true. It's nice here; and anyway, the people who get into Heaven these days are the kinds of toadies that belong there. Let them have it."
"Those are my people you're talking about," Jesus said, quietly. "I died for their sins. I fostered them. I guided them. I did everything in my power for them and in the end, I died for them…so that they could get into Heaven and have a place in an eternal paradise. As nice as it is here, my people deserve better."
Rupert and I stood, awestruck at Jesus' speech. "Well, its easy to see why people always thought so highly of you," I said.
Jesus blushed. "It's been a while," he said.
Whatever he said next I completely missed, because I'd had a brainwave. Then…a second brainwave. And then…an idea.
"I've got it!" I yelled, practically knocking Jesus and Rupert over. "It might take a few years…and we're going to need Death's help…but I think we can do it."
Jesus and Rupert leaned in to hear my plan, and I explained it to them, in fervent detail. When I was done, both wore enormous grins on their faces.
Thirty years later, Jesus, Rupert, myself, all wearing shiny robes, and three hundred other stood in front of the Gates of Heaven. Death had just dropped us off, right in front of the gate rather than in the waiting room, and was on his way back to get more.
"What is all this?" Saint Peter asked. "One at a time, one at a time, the rest of you to the waiting room…wait…you!"
He pointed at Jesus, recognizing the Son of God, who, after getting cleaned up a bit on Earth, looked a lot better than he had when we'd found him in Heaven. "Yes," Jesus said. "Me."
"What are you doing here?" Saint Peter asked, scathingly. "You've fallen from grace, remember?"
"Yes, I remember," Jesus said. "And I'm here to reclaim it."
Jesus raised his hand, and the three hundred men and women behind us charged forward. Before Saint Peter could do anything, they'd pushed him to his knees and opened the gate, flooding in. Two of the followers stayed behind to hold Saint Peter; the rest ran through Heaven with almost alarming speed, fighting off loyalist Angels and ignoring anyone who didn't want to put up a resistance.
"How did this happen?" Saint Peter asked. Rupert pulled a book out from under his robe and handed it to Saint Peter. "It's the Bible," Saint Peter said, motioning to hand it back.
"Take a closer look," I said.
Saint Peter leafed through the Good Book, apparently completely indifferent to what it had to say; he'd probably read the Old and New Testaments several hundred thousand times and didn't have to read them again to know each and every word. However, where the Book ought to have stopped was a continuation.
"The Modern Testament?" Saint Peter asked. "What rubbish is this?"
"We wrote it," I said. "We went back to Earth thirty years ago and brought Jesus along – and he restarted Christianity. It took a little while to prove to everyone that he was actually Jesus – they wanted to throw us in an asylum at one point, good times – but eventually they got the picture, and then they warmed up to us. We explained that things had gone wrong in Heaven and on Earth and that in order to bring everything back to the way it was supposed to be, we were going to need to start reforming things. Rupert and I wrote it all down for them, and they turned it into the Modern Testament – the Book of Lori and the Book of Rupert."
"This is…madness," Saint Peter said, horrified. "I knew you were a meddler back then, but this…this goes beyond anything anyone has ever done in the history of the Universe."
"What can I say?" I said, batting my eyelashes at Saint Peter. "I dare to be different."
It didn't take long for Heaven to fall completely to our forces, especially after Death showed up with a fresh round of our followers. When it was over, only those members of our followers who were actually dead stayed around – the rest got to go back to Earth as Angels and continue preaching the gospel of freedom and equality.
Although we'd defeated God and had control of Heaven, the matter of what to do with the place was still something in hot contest. Eventually, we rang up Satan, explained that we'd taken over Heaven, and invited him up to have a conference to decide the future of the Universe.
God wasn't pleased when we sat down across the table from him and explained what was about to happen – especially when we told him that Satan was coming. "I always new you were in league with the Devil," he said. "When people find out about this, they'll turn against you in a New York minute…you just wait…"
I smiled. "We'll wait," I said.
Satan arrived several minutes later – in his human guise, not as the giant dragon. God was astounded when he saw the Lord of Evil. "Hello, everyone," said Satan. "Travel's a bit hairy these days…turns out that a huge dragon-monster won't fit in the transit system anymore…there just aren't any standards in the Universe…"
"Satan?" God asked. "Is that…you?"
"Yes, it's me," Satan replied. "I've been making a few changes lately."
"I see that," God said, disdainfully. "Change…" he muttered, and shook his head.
"You can quiet down now," I said, and God shot me a dirty look. I ignored it and looked around the table at which we were all seated: Me, God, Satan, and Jesus, with Rupert in the background taking notes. "We're gathered here today to decide what happens to the Universe, and more importantly, its people. The decisions we make will affect billions of lives, so we all have to take this very seriously. I'm sure each of you, being omnipotent and eternal, can appreciate responsibility.
"Now, as things stand, Jesus, Rupert and I have control of the Earth and Heaven, and Satan here has control of Hell. God is still, technically, the ruler of Heaven, but he's not leading anyone these days. Despite these new arrangements, the old rules are still in place, and people on Earth haven't stopped dying. As we speak, more people are dying and being sent either to Heaven or Hell. The most virtuous people are being let into Heaven without examination, and the really evil people are being sent unequivocally to Hell. The ones we're unsure of are going to Purgatory – Sophocles and Aristotle were kind enough to lend us their villa there for use of the refugees.
"The system is going to change. With it, I think we all can agree that the rules will have to change too. Now, here is what we propose –"
"That's enough," God said, trying to chuckle lightly and making a slight coughing sound instead. "No need to waste everyone's time. We have a perfectly good system and perfectly good rules right now. They've been working for thousands of years. They still work."
"They don't work," I said. "At least, not for everyone else. They work fine for you and yours, but we're talking about setting up a system that's fair for everyone."
God got angry. "I won't allow this," he said. "I'll smite anyone who attempts it!"
"Go ahead and try," I said, waving a dismissive hand at him. "Your power only existed so long as people believed in you. Now that they believe that you're just an old fraud trying to stay in power by any means necessary…your "power" means nothing."
"Congratulations, you suck at life!" Rupert said. Everyone turned to stare at him. "Sorry…just saying what everyone was thinking…"
"Moving on…" I said, as usual ignoring Rupert's odd outburst. "We control the Earth. That is unshakably true at this point; nothing can destroy the reforms we've instituted there."
"What is it like?" Satan asked.
"World peace," Rupert said. "Global economy…international solidarity…you know, all the basics."
"Sounds nice," Satan said. He shot a look at God. "Better than when…ahem, some people were running things."
God looked like he might respond to the jab, but thought better of it. Instead of speaking up, he sat in his chair and fumed quietly.
"I propose a radical reconstruction of Heaven and Hell," I said. Jesus and Rupert were the only two that I'd already told about my plans, so they were steeled for the announcement; God and Satan, however, were not, and both reacted.
"What?" Satan asked.
"Huh?" God said. "How?"
"Like this," I said. "Hell was meant to be a punishment for sinners and Heaven was meant to be a reward for the virtuous and righteous. Your whole voter fraud scandal messed that up – a lot of good people ended up in Hell and fewer and fewer truly good people were going to Heaven. I understand why Satan reformed Hell – those people don't deserve to burn for eternity. Well, some did, but a large majority of the people who go to Hell are just normal, decent folks who didn't meet Heaven's requirements. Likewise, Heaven is only admitting people who favored the status quo – the current God and his policies and such. Most of them do so blindly; only the blind could truly support the system as it is. Blindness is not righteousness.
"Therefore, I propose that we bring things back to the way they were supposed to be. Hell will go back to being a punishment – but only as a punishment for the truly evil. Heaven will be remade as the paradise it was supposed to be – not just a campaign poster for the corrupt. It will admit everyone who deserves to live in paradise for eternity – the truly good people. And the people who fall somewhere in between…will go to Satan's current Hell, which will join with Purgatory to become New Purgatory – where they'll live in peace for eternity – not paradise, but peace.
"Everyone in Heaven and New Purgatory will be allowed to vote for God. To make things a bit more fair, God's term will be shortened to a century. No God will be allowed to be elected to more than two terms consecutively; once he or she has served two terms back to back, they'll have to let someone else handle the job for a century before running again. Each God will have a right-hand Angel – the Arch Angel – which will take all complaints, suggestions, etc., from the people of Heaven and New Purgatory and bring them to the attention of God.
"The old standards are out. People will now be judged on their meritorious actions – whether they be genocide, curing cancer, or intentionally tripping someone or helping a neighbor to bring out their garbage. Acts of conscious conscience are what get people placed in the afterlife from now on.
"No sentence to Hell will be for eternity; each "inmate" will have chances to redeem themselves. If they can prove to a parole board that they have changed and deserve to be elevated, they will be allowed to dwell in New Purgatory on a trial basis – if, after an amount of time ascertained by the parole board, they have proven their ability to exist in civilized society, they will be allowed to stay in New Purgatory.
"A referendum may be called in Heaven at any time to impeach the present God. If the proposal has the support of the majority of the citizens of Heaven (defined as fifty percent plus one), then a vote will be taken. A two-thirds majority will be required to impeach. This same process holds true for all divine office-holders.
"God will no longer have any powers in the area of the entrance standard; those powers will fall to a new Judicial Review Court, headed by Jesus. They will be responsible for informing the people of the practices of God and the potential impact of those practices. They will have the power to declare acts of God to be against the spirit of New Divinity and then can nullify those acts.
"We considered forming a legislature, but decided against it. Instead, there will a direct democracy here in Heaven; each major issue will be voted on by the people. New Purgatory will have an elected legislature; we'll allow them to come up with the details for that on their own. Between the direct democracy here in Heaven and the representational one in New Purgatory, we should be able to create new policy with ease and fairness. God's purpose will be to interpret and carry out the policies of the democracy."
When I finished speaking, God, Satan, Jesus, and Rupert were all staring at me, open-mouthed and incredulous. I blushed. I'd had thirty years to get all the details straight in my mind, didn't I?
"So much for separation of church and state," muttered Rupert, but I knew that he was just kidding. He was on my side.
"Did you get all that down?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "I think we just wrote the Book of Democracy."
"Sounds appropriate," I said. "Well, what do the rest of you think?"
"Uh…" Satan said.
"For once, I'm with him," God muttered.
"I…like it," Jesus said. "Uh…yeah…"
"It'd only be on a trial basis," I said. "We could always revise the processes and details later, as problems become apparent."
"Who's going to run Hell?" Satan asked. Everyone turned to look at him. "Hey, don't look at me. I'm done with the fire and brimstone."
"Do you know anyone who could take it over for you?" Jesus asked.
"Hmm…" Satan said, scratching his chin. "Yeah, actually. Ever heard of Andrew Jackson?"
Both Rupert and I nodded. "Yes," I said.
"He'd be perfect for it," Satan said. "Tough and a little sadistic…but usually fair."
"Perfect," I said. "So you'll agree to this?"
"Yeah, I will," Satan said. "I already took one huge step up on the reform ladder. Why not another?"
"That's the spirit!" I said. "How about you, Jesus?"
"Yeah, I'll go along with it," Jesus replied. "I have some doubts here and there, but we can address those later."
"Of course," I said. I turned to God…he was going to be the hardest to sell on this. "You don't really have a choice, you know."
"I know," He said. "I'm God and you're forcing me into this…this just isn't right…"
"You're a democratically elected leader," I said. "Welcome to reality. Democratically elected leaders have to listen to their people. Totalitarians are the ones who don't – and most of them are in Hell. It'd be a bit of a double standard for you to be one, wouldn't it?"
God's shoulders slumped. "Fine," he said, so low that I practically couldn't hear it.
"Great!" I said. "We've got a unanimous vote in favor here. Oh, hey…one other thing. Could we get someone to release Brutus? He got screwed over."
Oddly, Satan looked at God, apprehensively, before he answered. "Actually, I let him out of his torment years ago," he said, and then seemed to brace himself.
"WHAT?!" God shouted, and whatever vestiges of his old power remained in him came bursting forth. "YOU WHAT?! HE WAS CONDEMNED TO SUFFER FOR ETERNITY! HE DESERVED TO SUFFER FOR ETERNITY! YOU TRAITOR! YOU CHEAT! HOW DARE YOU?!"
As God continued to rave, shaking the room and generally ignoring everyone but himself, I took the sheet of paper that Rupert had written all the provisions down on and passed it around. Satan, Jesus, and I signed it – and so did God, still ranting and shouting like a madman.
As soon as his signature was affixed to the document, God's rant stopped. "What the…?" he asked. Then he burst into a shining array of light, blinding us all.
When our eyes cleared, the man sitting in the chair where God had been was…different. He was shorter, wearing a toga and a wreathe of some green plant. A short sword hung by his side.
"Wait a second…" I said. "Are you telling me that Julius Caesar has been God for the past two thousand years?"
"He had a strong sympathy vote," Satan said. "He'd just been assassinated only forty years before the election…people knew his story…and he was obviously a great leader…I guess the temptations of power were just too much for him."
"I was supposed to be King," Caesar muttered, all his energy gone. He slumped forward, his chin against the table. "They were going to make me King and then they killed me and I was supposed to be powerful. Not this. Not this."
"Uh…do you suppose we should remove him from the room?" I asked. "He's…creeping me out."
"Me too," Satan said. He and Jesus lifted Caesar out of his chair and brought him outside of the room. They returned shortly and sat down. They, and Rupert, looked at me.
"What do you say, gentlemen?" I asked. "Let's have an election."
And they did have an election…and to no one's surprise (except her own), Lori became the first God under the new Constitution. She reigned for two hundred years, directing the infancy of the reforms well, and then turned over her duties to Rupert.
Rupert, in the meantime, became the go-to man for all matters of state. Having more or less written the Modern Testament and having been instrumental in the wording of the new Divine Constitution, he knew more about Divine Law then anyone else in the Universe. Lori made him her first Arch Angel, a capacity in which he served very well.
Jesus started up the first Judicial Review Court, adding Sophocles, Justinian, and Severus to its panel, as well as several other notably fair and just people from throughout history. Their reviews were well-respected, and although Jesus and Lori agreed on most things they made sure that their friendship never got in the way of the dutiful executions of their offices. Jesus continued making occasional appearances on Earth to speak and reinforce the values of the Modern Testament.
Satan transformed his Hell into New Purgatory, melding it with the Gothic landscape that served as the old Purgatory. Although it took a while for the old-school philosophers and the new-school hippies to find common ground, their love of intellectual thought – and peace – eventually brought them together. Satan himself was happy enough administering a place that was considered, by most, to be "wicked awesome."
Andrew Jackson took over Hell. He made it hot. Real hot.
Caesar eventually ended up in New Purgatory, although how he got there is a matter of some historical debate. He never again formed a coherent sentence that didn't involve the words "power", "King", or "unfair", except for one instance where someone heard him talking about how much he disliked prune juice.
The decoy-Hell got transformed into a museum in New Purgatory. As punishment for being a royal dick wad, Saint Peter was forced to be its curator.
The Angel of Death finally got some help and a bigger bus, meaning that he could take a couple of days off per week and an occasional vacation. Without wars or (much) strife on Earth, his job generally went from being horrendously hectic to tolerable.
The Angels, both in Heaven and on Earth, continued to preach the gospel of the Modern Testament and the New Divinity. They made sure that things on Earth didn't regress back to the veritable Hell – pun entirely unintended – it had been before the return of Jesus.
Although the reform process was a rocky one, at first, the reforms eventually were refined and became policy. Lori's two terms as God were hailed as the beginning of the Golden Age of Heaven, and she herself was considered one of the greatest heroes in the history of the Universe. And to think, she would never have been the person she became if a drunk driver hadn't jumped a curb and killed her at the age of seventeen. Maybe it was chance. Maybe it was fate.
Or maybe…maybe it was an act of God.