Jim wasn’t entirely certain how he’d gotten into this waiting room. He remembered checking the road both ways before he began crossing. Was it possible he blacked out on his way to his job interview? He knew he was a light weight when it came to alcohol, but he’d only had a shot to steady his nerves before he’d left. He also couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d been here before. It reminded Jim slightly of the library that was on the third floor of the municipal building that he’d visited in his youth. Everything except for the elderly man sitting behind the desk muttering to himself and shuffling papers of varying haphazard heights about.
The man at the desk seemed like the grandfatherly type, with a receding hairline that marred his otherwise impressively thick white hair and gold-rimmed half-moon glasses. He had on a white oxford shirt with a argyle cardigan of varying shades of brown and gold. As the old man shuffled the papers about he stroked the white stubble that covered his face and eventually found a piece of paper that he may or may not have been looking for. He stopped briefly to scrawl something nearly illegible on it, stuffed it into an unmarked paper holder, and continued shuffling the rest of the papers and muttering.
Jim checked his watch, certain that if it was his job interview he’d gotten to, it must be close to the time it was scheduled. The most peculiar thing had happened though. His watch had stopped dead. It only displayed that time it had shown when he’d checked it before crossing the street. Jim fiddle with it a moment hoping to miraculously hear the slight ticking that it usually gave off, but looked up disappointed. He supposed there was nothing for it, he would have to get up and interrupt the old man’s work. At that thought from Jim, the old man looked up at him spoke.
“I’ll be with you in a moment, son. We’re just waiting on someone to arrive. They’re terribly important to the proceedings and we can’t start without them, I’m afraid.”
With that he returned his attention to the monolithic stacks that covered the desk. Jim was surprised by the old man’s voice. He had expected it to be quavering, to reflect the man’s age, but instead the voice had been youthful and vibrant. Powerful was the word that Jim would use to describe it if some asked him. With the information that his interview was imminent, Jim settled down some he reached for his valise to review the information he had gathered on the company. There was no sense forgetting an important question when he got his chance to ask them, he reasoned. Much to his surprise, however, his valise was missing. Jim panicked and groped around for it.
“Don’t worry. You won’t need it,” the old man said, not even looking up from his work.
Abruptly, Jim’s ears began ringing. He reached up and rubbed the fleshy portion where his ear met his jawline in a futile attempt to make it subside, and when he looked up there was another person standing in the room. The newcomer looked abashed, his face cast down as if he was embarrassed to be late, his shoulders slouched down abjectly, and the tips of his shoes pointed together. For all the unwavering confidence the old man had in his job, this new person, whatever his role was, seemed to have gone to the opposite end of the spectrum. The old man looked up at his associates arrival and removed his glasses, letting them dangle on his chest from a fine gold chain that Jim had not noticed earlier. The old man pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a great sigh.
“Well, I guess we can begin. Honestly, this is all sort of a mess. We weren’t expecting you for another fifty some odd years. But a certain lack of action on someone’s part has led to this unfortunately early appointment.”
With each word the old man spoke, his young companion seemed to shrink further into his own stature while not reducing the space he occupied. The old man looked away from his associate, returning his attention to Jim, before he continued.
“Such as it is, I’m afraid you’ve come to the pearly gates before you were meant to Mr. Sheridan.”
“I’m…I’m sorry. Are you telling me that I’m dead?” Jim barely managed. His mouth had suddenly gone dry.
“Yes.” The old man’s response was simple and matter of fact. It was like he was discussing the weather.
“And this is Heaven? With a capital H?” Jim’s voice was a barely audible whisper at this point.
“A for observation, Mr. Sheridan.”
“Well can’t you just send me back? To my body? I mean, if I’m not supposed to be here for another fifty years, that seems to fix everyone’s issues, doesn’t it?” But as Jim spoke, the elderly gentleman merely shook his head, a slight frown creasing his lips.
“Ordinarily, we would be able to do just such a thing. Unfortunately, Mr. Sheridan, you were an organ donor. And because time moves differently here, your organs have already been with their grateful recipients for about a year and half. It wouldn’t be right for us to just snatch them out of them, willy-nilly. Especially not when the rest of your remains have been cremated. It does pose an issue. You luckily get a free pass on the normal weighing of deeds that we perform because it was Kanthiel’s lax behaviour that led to your untimely demise. The only question that waits before we usher you into Paradise proper is what we do with Kanthiel, here.”
With that, the old man turned his attention back to the ashamed angel that stood between them. For his part, Kanthiel remained completely silent, awaiting whatever judgement befell him.
“I’m sorry,” Jim said, “but I’m not sure what, er, Kanthiel, was it? I’m not sure what Kanthiel’s punishment has to do with me.”
“Well that’s just it. Since your life was cut short by Kanthiel’s ineptitude, it’s your call what punishment he receives. And he has to be punished before we can send you onward to your eternal rest. So what will it be? Cast him down from the heavens? A thousand years in a sea of sulfur? Whatever punishment you decide is his to take.”
Jim sat pondering for several moments, looking at the shaking angel before him. Finally, he came to a decision.
“Sir, I know that I’ve struggled with my temper prior to this. I may even have been guilty of wrath. But I don’t see how I can possibly judge this angel. Everyone makes mistakes. This one was more catastrophic for me personally than I would have liked, but as you said early, we can’t undo it. And no punishment I decide for him is going to torture him more than knowing that he screwed up in a way that he can’t fix. So as punishment I choose to forgive him and let him get back to what he’s supposed to be doing.”
The old man smiled gently and nodded knowingly.
“I’m glad you chose forgiveness, Mr. Shepard. I’d hate to have sent you to hell after Kanthiel screwed up just because you were intent on wrath.”
Jim only had a moment to look surprised before his was whisked away to paradise.
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