“The Undead in Heaven”
It was late at night. It was raining. There was thunder and lighting. I was heading west on I-80, going home to Kearny after visiting my grandkids in Lincoln. I was tired. My back was hurting. I had to go to the bathroom, but I was old enough that actually doing so didn’t really relieve the urge, so I mostly just ignored it. I was actually kind of happy for the pain, and the bright-as-noon flashes of lightning. They were all that was keeping me awake. Definitely I didn’t want to doze here. It was thanksgiving weekend, and there were utterly stupid numbers of cars all over the place.
The lightning strobed, and several car lengths in front of me I saw a sedan flip up into the air and start to tumble. You know how people claim to see things like that in slow motion? Not me, boy. In the flashing stormlight, I saw it as a sequence of still images. It was hypnotically beautiful. I heard a low whump. There was the unmistakable screech and flat hiss of brakes and tires sliding on wet asfault. A combination of highway hypnosis and the unexpected artistic qualities of the tumbling car had distracted me. I was an instant late hitting my own brake, but I don’t think it would have mattered much. As a sequence of stroboscopic images, I saw the world outside my spider webbed windshield on its side, upside down, face down into the ground, then upside down again and backwards. Gravity reoriented itself accordingly with each image, faster really than I could fully process. I had a weird sense memory of being in my dad’s arms as a small boy. We were in the bleachers in Kennedy Space Center, watching a Space Shuttle launch. He’d stumbled a bit while standing up to give me a better view, then recovered. It had scared me, and my mom yelled at him about it later.
I miss them. I wish they were here. Not in the car accident, I mean, but, well, you know.
That whole flashback flashed by at subliminal speeds. The outside world was upside down. I was a bit bewildered, but seemed fine, no injuries, I escaped without a scratch. Again. I’d always led a charmed life. I was lucky in the unluckiest possible ways.
Just then, my headlights conspired with a spectacularly long eruption of lightning to end the intriguing stills, and bring back fluid, realistic motion. It was just in time for me to see a Mac truck barreling towards me. In the cab, in a flash, I could make out the face of the driver. He was asleep at the wheel. I couldn’t look away, I literally didn’t have time to close my eyes. It happened so quickly that I barely had time for the terror to register and then suddenly I was in heaven.
I was laying in fluffy white clouds - you’d expect them to be cold and wet, knowing what most of us know about the hydrological cycle these days - but, no, they were nice and comforting and pleasantly warm. There was a beautiful sky above me.
I screamed for a while, actually, long enough that I realized I was screaming. Then I just kept on screaming for a bit. Presently I got bored with it. When I heard other people screaming, I got up to investigate. I saw several other people laying in the clouds, adults, kids, some screaming, some looking panicked. I noticed I was wimpering a bit, myself.
Each of us had our own clouds, the size of an emperor-sized bed. As I looked, I noticed that one or two people on some of the clouds - including one of the kids - just faded away. The clouds themselves faded away, too. Another appeared, with a new person on it.
Suddenly I was moving, my cloud drawing nigh to the pearly gates. Behind them I could see the great temple or New Jerusalem, or whatever. It was beautiful. Well, really, it was more Technicolor than wonderful, but still stunning. Saint Peter didn’t look like you’d imagine. He was wearing blue and orange coveralls with a “Buffalo County EMS” patch on the shoulder.
“What is your name?” He shouted at me while I was still sailing towards him. His manner was too direct and articulate, like he wasn’t sure I could hear him.
“Elmer Amherst,” I said.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”