John wasn't sure how long it had been since he died. Nothing ever changed on the seemingly infinite plane of nothingness. He hadn't aged. He and everyone else there looked exactly the same as the first day he arrived. The force of time had no meaning in the vast emptiness. He was moving slowly up in a line where he could see no end and no beginning. He held what looked like a massive deli ticket that had the number 8,456,435,434 printed on it.
The line contained people from all walks of life who had died in a variety of different ways. Geography often played a rather significant role in this. Of course, some people had simply made it to a ripe old age and had gently drifted off into death, but there seemed to be fewer and fewer of those arriving. Far more often, John was meeting victims of war, famine, disease.
There were also plenty of people who had decided to expedite their addition to the line. John had met some of them, too many to count. Just in front of him, there was a man who had blasted a hole so big in his head John was able to see clear through to the other side. John was more unassuming. He was just a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, beady eyes behind small glasses, with a gut visible through his Christmas tree-patterned red and green extra-large sweater and khaki pants.
The only thing that stood out about John was the belt fastened around his neck. He couldn’t zip it up. Also, if anyone looked closely, they would notice his fly was open. It made those he talked to wonder if suicide had been his actual intention. Oh, no, that would be too easy. Death was making every effort to be as grating and humiliating as life had been. John's biggest regret now was not giving death more thought when he was alive. If he had known he would meet so many people posthumously, he would have taken care to die less embarrassingly.
On top of all this, he noticed he was getting uncomfortably close to the front of the line. No one knew what was at the end. There was only a burning white light. It was one of the few things that had met John’s expectations about the afterlife. No one who has ever gone through has ever come back out. People just coming in were starting to ask him questions. Being asked the same questions a few hundred thousand times began to get annoying. Since pretending to look like you're too busy to talk, standing on a plane of nothingness is almost impossible, John could never avoid the unwanted conversation.
John had noticed that most people seemed to die in the same eleven or twelve ways, so even that topic grew stale. Usually, the ones from war zones had more interesting stories, but there was often a language gap there. The line had always seemed to move excruciatingly slow.
Eventually, the pace started to quicken, and the inevitable began to catch up with him. All too soon, he found himself only five spots away from the front! He tensed up as he inched ever closer to his eternity. His thoughts were a chaotic maelstrom of speculations. His frantic contemplation He was interrupted when he saw a family walking towards him. For once, he was thankful for the distraction.
They were led by a tall, clean-cut blonde guy looking to be about in his mid 30’s. His wife was a bit shorter, with medium-length blonde hair, large blue eyes, and wonderfully tanned cleavage that was pushing its way out of her yellow dress. They had two kids following them, neatly dressed and also very blond with large blue eyes.
“Name's Mark Patterson,” he said, extending his hand.
John shook his hand “John.”
“How long is this line?” Mark asked.
“Oh, uh, I’m not sure how long I've been here,” John responded.
“Oh, Jeez!” Mark exclaimed in a playfully exaggerated tone. “Looks like we’re gonna need a board game, huh, kids?” the wife said giddily. “Yeah or two!” said Mark.” Their laughter subsided.
“So, what happened to you?” Mark inquired. John was caught off guard, “Oh, uh, suicide. Yeah, my wife left me, lost my job. Just couldn't take it, you know?”
“Oh yeah, yeah," Mark replied thoughtfully. “
What about you guys?” John asked. “The rapture,” Mark answered with a smile.
“Ah, gotcha,” John replied. “Well, it looks like you’re next. We’ll let you go,” Mark said. John looked forward. It was his time.
“Good luck,” Mark called out as they walked away. When they turned to leave, John noticed they all had bullet holes in the back of their heads and hair matted with blood and brain matter. John cringed a little bit as he watched them go.
It was finally John's turn to pass through the light. He took a deep breath and slowly walked through to the other side, where his unknown eternity was waiting for him.
The blinding light engulfed him. He strained his eyes to see what was ahead, to see where he would be until the end of time. Nothing in life had ever given him any grasp of what eternity meant, and only now would he finally learn the full implications of the word forever.
He was somewhat disappointed when he found the final barrier between him and eternity was a wood panel door. It seemed rather anti-climactic. He took a deep breath and walked in. He was in a tiny office; a short, skinny Indian man was sitting at a desk. His name tag read 'Gandhi.'
“Take a seat,” he said. John sat down. Gandhi looked down at a pile of file folders on the desk. John was hopeful; from what he recalled, Gandhi was a pretty nice guy. He took his being there to greet him into eternal life as a good sign.
“I read about you in high school social studies,” John said amicably, but Gandhi did not respond. After a moment, Gandhi pulled out a manila folder, “ Ah, here we are,” he said, “John Swanson.” He opened the file and studied it a second. “I'm sorry, we regret to inform you that at this time, there is no place for you in the eternal bliss of heaven.”
“Why not?” John asked, stunned. “Mr. Swanson, what can you tell me about your life?” Gandhi asked. John thought for a second, “Well, I became a C.P.A. when I was 25.”
“Mr. Swanson, I freed India from British rule while pioneering nonviolent resistance, a tactic later used by Martin Luther King. I’m sorry, but you and God just wouldn't have anything to talk about. God created the universe, it’s very difficult keeping its attention, but I’m sure Hell won’t be so bad. All that stuff about fire and brimstone is just nonsense. It’s just a place filled with people like you, and the rest can talk about your jobs, the weather, your kids. It will not be all that different from being alive for you.”
John hung his head, and the tears welled in his eyes. He had experienced rejection in life but never had it felt like such a permanent setback. He truly understood how absolute hopelessness could be. Only now it was too late to consider suicide.
"Oh, one more thing," Gandhi said. John looked up.
"You might want to zip up your fly, or no one is going to believe your suicide story." John lifted his head, looked Gandhi straight in the eye, and zipped up his pants before shuffling his way into the tiny plane of existence he would inhabit until the end of time.