WAITING

Waiting in line to get into Heaven is a little like waiting in a line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The lines are ridiculously long, the people around you are in bad moods, and your feet begin to ache almost immediately. Another way that it resembles the DMV are the ropes guiding the lines, but where the ropes at the Department are made of hard fabric with stainless steel poles, the ones in front of the Gate are blue velvet with silver poles. They are finer than any you might find in even the grandest of old opera houses in Paris, and they are adorned with diamonds. They rest on soft, cool clouds. The golden Gate is visible in the distance, over the heads of the souls waiting to be permitted entry.

Emily Chatum, formerly of Seattle, Washington, ceased to be awed by her exquisite surrounding some time ago. She has been standing in this line since approximately 4:37 this morning, and it is now 10 o'clock. What she wants is to get into Heaven; and perhaps a nice cup of strong coffee, Columbian blend, with one half of a package of sweetener. The last thing she wants is to continue waiting in a line that seemed more fitting for the Other Place than Heaven.

For the third time in as many hours, the person behind her falls forward into her back after dozing off. Ethel Mak died at age 92, and she has been Emily's neighbor since she got in line. Emily swears softly and props the still-sleeping Mrs. Mak back onto her feet. The woman, though pleasant enough when awake, is starting to annoy Emily. The entire situation is starting to annoy Emily.

Mrs. Chatum was 33 this morning, and was a nurse on her way to work. She was, at least, until a drunk driver had rammed into her driver's side door going roughly 80 miles per hour. By the time the firemen had used the Jaws of Life to remove her door, she had died of the injuries she had sustained. She had lost consciousness upon impact and had never regained it. At home, she has a husband and an eight year old daughter, who were sleeping peacefully the moment she died.

Emily wipes away a tear with her cold hand, and sighs softly. She has to get used to this. She knows she'll like it here. It's Heaven, isn't it? She wondered if there had ever been anyone who didn't like Heaven. If you had to be dead, you might as well enjoy it. And she had to be dead, didn't she? It wasn't as though she could go back to her life.

The person in front of her in line turned and offered her a handkerchief. She readily accepted, and thanked the tall man in the heavy overcoat. He nodded graciously. She wiped her streaming eyes.

"I'm Charles Gilchrist." The man said, a hint of an English accent still apparent in his voice. He offered a large hand, which Emily shook.

"Emily Chatum. Car accident this morning. I was 33."

"Pleasure's mine, Ms. Chatum. I died of a lethal injection last evening. I was 38."

"A…a lethal injection?" Emily stammered. "You don't mean you were…"

"A murderer? 'Course I was. That's how you get to have a lethal injection. I killed 5 people before they caught me. Then I went to prison, Death Row, and this morning I was executed." Charles shrugged.

"Oh, God! Then why are you waiting to get into Heaven?"

"Ms. Chatum, do you have any idea how many people come through here in just a 24 hour period? There are reams of paperwork. This is the fifth line I've been in this morning. They appear to have lost my file."

"Heaven has a filing system?" Emily stared at the killer.

"Ms. Chatum, it's the year 2005. Everyone has a filing system." Charles chuckled.

"But…but how could they make a mistake? They're angels, aren't they? And well, I supposed demons working for the Other Place, but they would be efficient, too, wouldn't they?"

"Obviously not. Since I'm standing in line with you when I should be engulfed by flames. I'm not worried about it. They'll get me where I'm supposed to be eventually. Or not. Who really cares?" Charles shrugged. Emily was rather frightened by this apathetic and apparently unremorseful Brit, but he seemed to know more about this place than she did and she wasn't willing to lose her place in line. And it wasn't as though he could kill her, she was already dead.

"How do you know so much about it here?" she asked curiously.

"I told you. Fifth line, remember? I've seen a lot of things, and I have very sore feet. But that's the way it goes. We're dead. There's nothing else." Just then, the line moved again and Charles was standing in front of a large metal desk with a logo painted on it in light blue paint. "Heaven, Inc." said the logo. The "H" had a halo and there was a wing on each side of the lettering. The desk had a wooden sign on it reading, "Complaint Department: Press button." The button was on an old mouse trap, and pressing it would have caused the trap to snap shut on your finger. Another sign taped to the metal read "I can only please one person a day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look so good either." Files were stacked on the desk in hap-hazard piles.

The man sitting behind the desk, surrounded by filing cabinets, was an interesting sight. He had a long white beard, but his hair was cropped close, and his glasses where bifocals that would have made Buddy Holly proud. He wore a green sweater and under the desk you could see that he was wearing a pair of Birkenstocks and corduroy slacks.

He had a phone headset on his head and was talking rapidly to someone through it while he typed away at a large computer's keyboard.

"It's not my fault he hasn't arrived yet. I already faxed the file over to you and he left with an escort. What else would you like me to do, Mephistophilis?" And he hit a button on the large white office phone he was hooked up to, and ended the conversation. He took a swig from an oversized coffee cup that said "Think I'm doing a bad job? Go to Hell, literally." He then turned his gaze to Charles and said politely, "Full name, age, home city, and home country, please. Town and nation you were born in. Phone number and Social Security if you have them."

"Gilrchist, Charles Albert. Formerly 38. Baltimore, United States; originally of Brighton, England. My phone number was 322-571-8905. My social security number was 592-36-1673." The man dutifully but quickly typed this in and clicked "Send".

"Just one moment, then, Mr. Gilchrist." Said the man.

"Might you be Saint Peter?" asked Charles, smiling the winning smile he'd used to lure three of his five victims to their death.

"Who else would I be, really?" said Saint Peter. Sure, we have secretaries and other workers, but really. I mean, I'm in charge of this whole admission process." As he was speaking, a pleasantly plump woman in pumps, a dark blue woman's suit, thick black-framed glasses, and a bun appeared carrying a file. She handed it to Saint Peter.

"Ah, yes, thank you, Sylvia. How's it going this morning?"

"Busy as usual, Pete." Replied Sylvia, smiling. "Only trouble we had was this old fellow who almost dove through the damn floor trying to get back to Marge. He is now being naturalized."

"Very good." Said Peter absent-mindedly, reading through Charles's file. Sylvia headed off and was soon lost in the massive rows of filing cabinets. "Not good, Mr. Gilchrist. Five murders, eh? No way you'll get in here now. It'll have to be hell, you know that, don't you?"

Charles nodded, looking sad. "Cheer up, old pal, you'll be up for parole in ten years and they'll probably give it you. You can get yourself a nice condo in Purgatory."

"Maybe I'll see you again, Emily." Charles said kindly. "Good luck."

"Goodbye, Charles." Emily said to his retreating back.

"Alright, ma'am, full name, age, home city, and home country, please. Town and nation you were born in. Phone number and Social Security if you have them."

"Chatum, Emily Elizabeth. 33 years old. I lived in Seattle, the United States. I was born in Aberdeen, same country. My phone number was 455-721-6283. My Social Security was…hm….867-03-9137." Emily reeled off.

Once again, Saint Peter typed this into his computer and clicked "Send". Within moments, the lively Sylvia was back with her file. Saint Peter read it carefully, muttering to himself.

"So, rough day?" Sylvia said kindly.

"Like you wouldn't believe." Emily smiled.

"Oh, I know how you feel, sweetheart. I work in this madhouse."

"How exactly did you end up with this job?" Emily asked, ever curious.

"I was 24 and my boyfriend murdered me. I was an atheist, so I got a job here instead of a sentence of Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. It's not a bad job, I actually think I prefer it." Sylvia giggled.

"Oh, well….Thank you." Emily said.

"No trouble at all. See you around." Sylvia waved and headed back through the filing cabinets.

"Well, then, Mrs. Chatum, congratulations!" Peter said happily. "Clean record. Heaven ought to suit you nicely. Head over to that line to receive your harp and be fitted for wings. And have a nice eternity."

"Oh, no." Emily muttered under her breath. "Not another line."