"Where the fuck
"Language, language. Most of our guests here don't really speak that way. It isn't exacly prohibited, per se, He only prohibits the use of His name in such a manner. But it won't really win you any points, I can tell you that."
The man gave me another few seconds of his tight-lipped frown, before turning back to some paperwork he had layed out in his desk.
In a way, I knew where I was. I had been here before. I was in bed, in the hotel room Melinda and I shared on our honeymoon, on the coast of France. The one that had cost way more than we could afford, but was right on the ocean and a short drive from Paris.
Problem was, that was almost ten years ago now. Melinda is dead, and a few minutes ago I was driving my car down I-76 in South Dakota on the way to work.
Since the man wearing the suit and speaking more at me than to me plainly wasn't about to tell me how I got here, I tried a different tactic: "Okay, then...Where am I, and who the fuck are you?"
That earned me another tight-lipped frown. He should patent that look. It was the perfection of exasperated patience.
In fact, everything about him spoke of perfection. A perfectly maintained suit, vest and all. Perfect power tie. Perfect haircut. Perfect teeth, that he had flashed at me often before I started pissing him off. Perfect articulation, vaugely accented. He was a blend of high-power New York attorney and tightass British accountant.
And he was still frowning at me. This time, I decided to wait him out, stare him down, see if I could rattle him.
"I already told you, my name is Azuvedizueial, and I am your defense Angel. Now, if you are through with the questions, I have some forms for you to fill out."
So much for getting him rattled. He pulled some sheets of paper and a pen from the stack and started toward me. I warded him off like he was about to hit me.
"You're my what?"
"Your defense Angel. I have been assigned to represent you in the High Court. Believe me, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea either. If you would like, I could have another Angel assigned to your case."
He had a gleam of hope in his eyes I didn't like. Of course, I didn't like much about this whole situation, least of all him. I still didn't really get what he was talking about, and I certainly wasn't about to sign anything until I did.
I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. When I opened them, I wasn't back on I-76, or maybe in an ambulance after crashing while I was busy having this weird dream. They opened instead on this strange man, standing in my honeymoon suite in front of a gorgeous view of the French coastline, giving me yet another dirty look.
I tried for patience. "Okay, one more time, where am I, who are you, and what am I doing here?"
A look of sympathy crossed his face and he walked to the bed. Sat down. Put his arm around me. It was like he was trying to freak me out even more.
I jumped out of bed, when I realized that my work clothes were gone and I was completely naked. I grabbed the bedsheet out from under him, wrapped up it it, and sat down again.
This time he kept his distance, but he gave me a look that was all big eyes. Like the look cops give you just before they ask if you'll come ID the body, was my thought at the time, and it turns out I wasn't all that far off.
"John, my friend...You're dead. You were driving to work, when a drunk swerved across the line and hit you dead on. He was driving a Ford Expidition, you were driving a Saab. There was barely enough left of you to scrape into a bucket so the authorities could ID the remains."
Flashes: I was going in early to get a head start on a big project. It was still dark. Headlights in the other lane. A sip of coffee, and then had headlights in my face. A flash of pain. And then I was in this bed in France where what's his name was flashing his clean teeth at me.
"No, no, That can't be right. I have my daughter this weekend. The Ecktor account is due tommorow. I have to get in early to work on it, and I have to get home to feed the cat, and I'm suppossed to have lunch with my mom...and...and..."
"You're right, it's all a big mistake." My tight-assed visitor reached into his coat pocket with a perfectly-bored look on his face now, produced some sort of black pistol, pointed it at me, and shot me twice, dead between the eyes.
I don't know what I expected. What does one expect a gunshot to the face to feel like? But what I didn't expect to feel was nothing. Nothing at all. I flinched and tried to duck a full second after the bullets had passed through my head. I knew they had gone through, I had felt them, there were holes in the headboard where they landed, but I felt no pain. I slapped my forehead looking to find a wound, but found only forehead.
"Sorry to take such a direct approach with you, but I have a full caseload here, and I'm hoping to make a raquetball appointment with Gabriel later this afternoon."
I slowly pulled my hand down from the nonexistant gunshot wounds. I turned to look at my guest, and the pistol was gone. He was holding the papers again, with the same pen. He held them out to me, and said "Now, if I could just get your signature on this one, this one, and this one, and have you start filling out this quesionnaire, we'll be on our way."
Instead of taking the papers, I looked at my not-bloodsoaked hand. "So...then...I'm dead."
"Well, good job, Mr. Holmes. If there are any murders around here that need solving, I'll be sure to let you know. Until then, if you could just start on this paperwork..."
But I wasn't paying attention. Still staring at my hand, I asked "So if I'm dead, then this must be...Heaven?"
He actually laughed out loud at me. Slapped his knee, laughed like a jackass. "No, no, friend, this is a far way from Heaven."
"So then...I'm in Hell." I looked around, suddenly afraid, waiting for little red men with pitchforks to jump out of the walls and start poking my ass off a beach in France into a pit of eternal fire and torture.
My guest put on a serious face. "No, this isn't Hell either. If it was, you would know it, believe me. This is purgatory. This is where you are Judged."
I filled out the stupid forms. I read the first few, then skimmed the rest. "I submit my eternal soul to evaluation for entrance into heaven, blah, blah, blah." It was like the DMV. The worst was a two hundred question survey, consisting of personality-type questions scattered with questions like "Have you ever performed a Satanic ritual?" and "How many times in your life have you masturbated?" and "If you have not committed murder, please skip to question 68A". I wanted to kill myself, if I wasn't already dead.
I started calling my guest Az, because it irritated him. Every time I did it, he'd repeat his full name, and I'd ignore it. He explained to me what his role in my death was: I was in purgatory, and to be judged where I should spend my eternity; heaven or hell. The whole process reminded me of the one time in my life I had actually protested a traffic ticket. I was barely into the process and I already wanted to just say the hell with it, I'll plead no contest. Problem was, No Contest meant an eternity getting poked in the ass with tridents by demons with short-man disease.
Az was my defense counsel, it was his job to make me look good before the court. It wasn't a job he was terribly thrilled with, but he seemed competent enough. He told me he had been doing this job for almost ten thousand years now, which seemed a bit long (who was he defending before humanity was born?), but I wasn't about to argue with him.
"So...how does this work?"
Az smiled at me, a different smile I had already begun to recognize as one I didn't like. One that indicated he was about to do something that I really wouldn't like.
"Let's take the tour."
France was gone. In its place, I was standing on the set of "Night Court". The gallery was empty, the bailif (named "Bull" on the TV show) looked bored, the judge was trying to get the court reporter to pick a card, any card.
Az leaned over to me and said, "There's St. Peter, that blowhard."
I looked at the judge, whose name I seemed to remember being Harry on the TV show, and said, "Saint Peter does magic tricks?"
Az gave me a confused look at first, then laughed. "No, St. Peter isn't the judge, he's the bailif. The gatekeeper. A much higher authority actually sits on the bench."
Before I could try to striaghten this out further, a gentle looking woman shuffled slowly up to the defendant's table. I couldn't see much of the lawyers on either side, but there seemed to be some conversation. Az explained to me that she was a teacher, taught third grade for years, took time off to teach in Africa, for free.
Out of the blue, Az whispered, "Sick fucking sadist." I looked at him, but before I could ask what he meant all conversation stopped and the woman was lead to the left side of the podium. "Lead" is a kind word for it, "Dragged kicking and screaming" is more accurate. A door opened in front of her, and she was uncerimoniously tossed into it. Behind that door, I saw fire, and I saw darkness. I saw pain, and torment, and torture unimaginable. I heard the cries of millions of souls, crying for forgiveness that would never come, begging for mercy. Pleading for a glass of water. Screaming for the pain to stop. Millions of souls, damned for all eternity.
Az said, "Well, that was fun. Where do we want to go next?"
...To be continued.
Coming up: Heaven, and Hell, the Express Lane, and much more of the in between. Saints, sinners, and the other 99 percent of humanity. And maybe even some explination of what the fuck exactly I'm doing here.