I never thought my life would end so abruptly. I always pictured myself going peacefully in my sleep, my loved one’s surrounding my sick bed. So imagine my surprise when I climbed out of the hole I was digging for the next poor lifeless body that was coming in the morning to find a gun pointed in my face.
“Don’t make a sound,” a voice from behind the gun whispered. I froze. Words were exchanged, I don’t remember what now, than a loud bang went off. As fast as darkness engulfed me, white light woke me up. I blinked, trying to get the room into focus.
“Ah, you’re awake Stephen.” I bolted up to see a man dressed in a white gown, standing at the end of the bed I was resting in.
“Are you a doctor?” I asked. From what I gathered from the room I had to be in some sort of hospital or doctor’s office, although there was no medical equipment around me.
The man laughed. “Well, not exactly.” He walked over to the side of my bed and held out his hand. “Stand up Stephen.” I expected to feel weak or find difficulty standing, but I had no problem. The man took me by the shoulder and steered me out the door and into a white hallway. “My name is Peter,” he said, “and this is Heaven.” I laughed and Peter looked at me curiously.
“Sorry,” I said, “but you must get some grief from people for naming your hospital ‘Heaven’.”
“Hospital?” asked Peter, stopping in the middle of the hall to look at me. After a few seconds he chuckled. “You’ve been mistaken Stephen. This isn’t a hospital. You’re dead.”
“Dead?” I asked astonished. “B-but I can’t be dead! I haven’t turned 50 yet! There must be a mistake.”
Peter looked at me with sadness in his eyes. “I’m sorry Stephen, there’s no mistake,” he said and continued walking. I followed reluctantly, a million thoughts racing through my head at once. Being in a coma for a few years I could deal with, but being dead meant the end of everything.
“Send me back.” The words slipped from my lips so suddenly I couldn’t stop them, but it was what I truly wanted.
Peter stopped. He turned and looked me in the eye. “I can’t Stephen.”
“Well, you were shot point blank in the face. You were found with your head split open. It’s impossible for you to come back to life after that. Even if that wasn’t the case it’s against the rules to send someone back. Once you come here that’s it.”
“What about my family? My wife- I have a son-” Peter cut me off.
“I can’t send you back.” My heart sank faster and faster. How could he expect me to accept the fact that I would never see my family again so quickly? Not only was I angry that he refused to help me, but that he didn’t even try. He kept going on about how the rules forbid it. In the 42 years that I was alive, I never once heard about there being rules in Heaven.
“Okay, so I can’t go back. What do you expect me to do up here? Sit and watch the clouds roll by.”
Peter took a long look at me and at first I thought he was going to yell at me, and part of me wished that he would. I was pretty sure saints weren’t allowed to lose their temper so it would be interesting to see what would happen if one did. Instead of yelling, Peter said, “Well, there is a job opening that I think might interest you.”
Months might have passed by, years even, but to the Grim Reaper it seems like minutes, even hours. I’ve killed hundreds of people, and at first it was a bit exciting. Peter warned me in the beginning that this job was not for just anybody. The person assigned had a big responsibility and could not, under any circumstances, neglect the duties of the Grim Reaper. “There will be dire consequences for the Earth and for you if anything is messed up,” he warned. I simply told him I understood and signed for my rule book, which I carried around with me at all times. There were times when I would be called to collect people who I was familiar with: neighbors, family friends, old colleagues, etc. and at first it shocked me, but as time went on I got over the shock and just reminded myself it was a way of life.
One day I received the call to head onto the scene of a car crash. As I touched down and surveyed the scene around me I heard a familiar voice screaming from across the road.
“Charlie! Charlie, wake up! Please Charlie!”
Heading over to the sobs I stopped as the scene flooded my senses. There was my wife, kneeling on the asphalt over my son, Charlie. He had to be at least 15 by now, which meant ten years passed since I last saw him. As his mother continued to beg him to wake up I knew it was hopeless. There was only one body I was coming for today and his was the only one lying lifeless in the middle of the road. The police and ambulance arrived and I watched as my wife fought them off as they tried to drag her away so they could get to the body. Everything seemed in slow motion.
“Is there anything wrong, Stephen?” a voice said close to my ear.
I blinked away tears that clouded my eyes. “Nothing, Peter.”
“You have a job to do Stephen. Don’t let your emotions get in the way.”
“But he’s only a child. Can’t you do anything to help?”
“You know I-”
“No, you can. I know the rules by now Peter. He hasn’t lost that much blood and his body is in fair condition. Please don’t make his mother suffer any more. He’s all she has.” Silence met my request. Peter sighed.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he replied before he left me. I stayed there to watch. If anything was going to happen it would happen within the next minute. Finally, after what felt like an eternity I heard an EMT say, “We got a pulse!” I could finally breathe again. I watched as my sons eyes fluttered open before the ambulance doors were closed and he was driven to the hospital. Returning, Peter was waiting for me.
“Thank you,” I said.
Peter smiled, “Don’t mention it. But don’t expect things to work out that way every time. You still have a job to do and can’t let your feelings get in the way every time.” I nodded my head and Peter left me. Although he was right, I was glad that I acted when I did. While part of me wanted my son here with me I knew I couldn’t do that to my wife. I couldn’t take everything from her, not right now anyway. Next time, I knew there wasn’t anything I could do. Next time I had to do my job.